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Reproductive (In)Justice: 

A Newsletter on Pregnancy & Parenting in Prisons
JIWC Newsletter
May 2022

Have a resource, community spotlight, event, or research findings you’d like us to feature in our next newsletter? Email us and someone from our team will follow-up with you. 

About Our Newsletter

Our newsletter features timely research and community spotlights, and highlights relevant resources and events at the intersection of incarceration, pregnancy, and parenting. This work is supported by the national Cross-Center Collaboration on the Health of Justice-Involved Women and Children (JIWC). The collaboration is made up of a group of formerly or currently HRSA-funded faculty, staff, and students from the following institutions’ maternal and child health (MCH) Centers of Excellence: the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Emory, Harvard, the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Johns Hopkins, the University of Alabama, and the University of North Carolina. 

Announcement: Summer Pause

Our newsletter will be paused during the summer months. We will return to distributing a monthly JIWC newsletter starting in September 2022. Please be sure to email us if you’re interested in getting more involved, or would like something featured when we return. 

Upcoming Events

Webinar Recording: JIWC "Support Through Separation" Series
The JIWC is hosting a four-part webinar series focused on “Support through Separation: Coping with Physical and Emotional Separation.” This series aims to provide a trauma-informed, welcoming, inclusive, and healing experience, especially for those with lived experience. Watch a recording of the third webinar, “Support through Separation for the Birthing Person and Baby During Incarceration,” hosted by Emory’s MCH Center of Excellence. Find recordings of the first two webinars, “Support through Separation for the Birthing Person” here and “Support through Separation for Families Impacted by Maternal Incarceration” here. Stay tuned for more information on the fourth and final event of the series “Support through Separation for the Birthing Person and Baby During Reunification” taking place this fall.   

Adopting a Gender-Responsive Approach for Women in the Justice System: A Resource Guide
Join the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance on June 8, 2022 from 1-2:30 PM ET. Register here.

Event Description
“Women’s involvement in the criminal justice system continues to rise despite recent efforts to increase access to diversion and reduce recidivism rates. This ongoing disparity is fueled by the need for gender-responsive and trauma-informed policies, practices, and programs that specifically address women’s unique pathways to offending and their experiences in the criminal justice system. Although there is increasing awareness of the importance of using gender-responsive approaches for women with justice system involvement, local criminal justice leaders may experience challenges putting these approaches into practice. In this webinar, a leading national expert and author on gender-responsive services for women in the criminal justice system will provide an overview of the six foundational elements for building gender-responsive programs that are included within the recently released resource, Adopting a Gender-Responsive Approach for Women in the Justice System: A Resource Guide. Participants will receive action steps for implementing effective programming and responses for women involved in the criminal justice system. There will also be a question-and-answer period.”

Felicia Lopez Wright  (Senior Policy Analyst, Behavioral Health, CSG Justice Center)
Maria Fryer (Policy Advisor, Criminal Justice and Mental Health, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance)
Marilyn Van Dieten  (Senior Advisor, Center for Effective Public Policy and Project Director, National Resource Center on Justice-Involved Women)

Recent Research
Incarceration Exposure and Maternal Disability
In their recent study, Testa and colleagues used data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS, 2019) to assess the relationship between incarceration exposure and maternal disability. They concluded: “Women personally or vicariously exposed to incarceration during pregnancy endure greater odds of having a disability. Considering both incarceration and disability are important public health issues with implications for maternal and child well-being, these findings highlight the need for further research that can better understand the connection between incarceration and disability.”

The Sentencing Project: A Factsheet on Female Incarceration
The Sentencing Project recently published a factsheet detailing trends of female incarceration. It includes information on trends of female incarceration since 1980, race and ethnicity in prisons, offense types, and state variation. The authors write: “Research on female incarceration is critical to understanding the full consequences of mass incarceration and to unraveling the policies and practices that lead to their criminalization. Incarcerated Women and Girls examines female incarceration trends and finds areas of both concern and hope.”

System Involvement: Foster Care and Incarceration Amongst LGBTQ Youth
In their report, Bianca D.M. Wilson and Lauren J.A. Bouton examine how foster care and incarceration impact LGBTQ youth, especially girls and women, and people of color. They conclude: “Our research highlights the need for an intersectional approach to policymaking that considers the impact of systems on girls and women along race and sexual orientation. Overall, the data across multiple studies to date indicate that while girls and women are not overrepresented in child welfare and criminalization systems as a whole, sexual and racial minority women among them are highly overrepresented.”
Sentencing Reform and Prenatal Care Access
In their study, Jaquelyn L. Jahn and Jessica T. Simes use Pennsylvania as a case study to assess the impact of sentencing reform on prenatal care access. They conclude: “Our findings demonstrate the importance of analyzing incarceration as a contextual-level determinant of preventative healthcare, specifically prenatal care for racially and socioeconomically marginalized groups. In a period of significant criminal justice policy reform across the U.S., our findings suggest that incremental reductions in prison admissions will likely only have small impacts for prenatal care equity. We believe widely-implemented, transformative policy changes in the areas of healthcare, social welfare, and criminal justice together will be necessary to see dramatic shifts in preventative healthcare inequities.”
This Mother's Day: PIPS on Maternal Incarceration and Family Separation
In honor of Mother’s Day, Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram summarize findings relating to maternal and family health and incarceration in the U.S. They report: “150,000 mothers separated from their children this Mother’s Day is atrocious in and of itself – but that’s just one day. How many people in the U.S. have experienced separation from their mothers due to incarceration over the years?” Although this specific set of data has not been historically tracked, they estimate that millions of mothers will be separated from their children in 2022. 
Recent News

Abortion Access for Incarcerated People
In their recent report for Urban Wire, Evelyn F. McCoy and Azhar Gulaid outline what  abortion access might look like for incarcerated people if Roe is overturned. They write: “Abortion services aren’t explicitly prohibited for incarcerated people, but they are already largely inaccessible. If abortion rights are left up to the states as anticipated, it will be especially critical to get this evidence into the hands of local providers and state policymakers so incarcerated people aren’t further forgotten.” They emphasize that incarcerated people will have increasingly limited access to basic reproductive services like abortion without the protection of Roe. 
Fetal Personhood and Criminalized Pregnancies
In her recent piece for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino argues that fetal personhood will not only be used to criminalize abortion, but a variety of other pregnancy-related outcomes. Tolentino cites a report by The Frontier pointing to the implications of fetal rights if Roe is overturned. She writes: “ least forty-five women in that state have been charged with child abuse, child neglect, or manslaughter because of drug use during pregnancy.” Additionally, pregnancy loss, though “common, complicated, and profoundly intimate” could soon be “legally subject to surveillance and criminalization.” Tolentino emphasizes that low-income people of color will be disproportionately impacted by this kind of reproductive policing. In her report, Melissa Gira Grant describes how “This expansion of criminal punishment in the name of protecting the unborn coincided with the rise of mass criminalization and incarceration over the past half-century.” She calls for a move towards harm reduction in order to help people navigate reproductive healthcare when their options may be limited and criminalized. 

In Missouri: Prison Nursery Program
The Missouri legislature recently approved a bill that would allow incarcerated mothers to stay with their babies for up to 18 months in a prison nursery. The bill awaits Governor Mike Parson’s signature. If approved, Missouri would be the tenth state to stop separating incarcerated mothers from their newborn babies. Jana Rose Schleis reports: "Studies show prison nursery programs in other states, along with positive health outcomes, have dramatically reduced the likelihood that the incarcerated mother reoffends."

Reproductive Rights for Incarcerated People in a Post-Roe America
In her piece for Jezebel Kylie Cheung examines how reproductive access will be severely limited if Roe is overturned. She writes: “Our conversations about the apocalyptic state of reproductive rights in America right now can’t exclude incarcerated people, who have already lost much of their agency and autonomy to the carceral system. They can’t be a footnote in efforts to protect abortion access in a post-Roe America—advocates and support networks should center incarcerated people in their organizing, and work toward decarceration and divesting from prisons, too.” Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg affirms this sentiment in her report, writing: “In a country where incarcerated people can still be shackled when they give birth, where they can be denied sanitary napkins or tampons at a guard’s whim, where gynecological exams can be more akin to assault than healthcare, what will it mean for prisoners if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Largely, that answer depends on where they are incarcerated.”

Meet Our Team

Rosie Laine (Editor) is a first year master’s degree student at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health in the Maternal and Child Health Program with a minor in sexual health. She is especially interested in reproductive justice, patient advocacy, health education, and harm reduction. 

Rebecca Shlafer (PhD, MPH) is an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health. Dr. Shlafer's research focuses on understanding the developmental outcomes of children and families with multiple risk factors. She is particularly interested in children with parents in prison, as well as the programs and policies that impact families affected by incarceration. Dr. Shlafer is the Research Director for the
Minnesota Prison Doula Project.

Sara Benning (MLS) leads the day-to-day activities for the HRSA-funded Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health at the University of Minnesota. If you’re interested in learning more about the Center, the technical assistance we provide or how to partner on an educational event or training, contact Ms. Benning at

Jennifer Saunders (MSW) is a doctoral candidate in the Health Services Research, Policy and Administration program in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Her research interest is health policy that impacts reproductive-age women and their families.
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