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Reproductive (In)Justice: 

A Newsletter on Pregnancy & Parenting in Prisons
JIWC Newsletter
April 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. 

Upcoming Events:

Join Us Tomorrow: JIWC "Support Through Separation" Webinar Series

Join the JIWC for “​​Support through Separation: Coping with the Physical and Emotional Separation for the Birthing Person and Baby During Incarceration” hosted by Emory’s MCH Center of Excellence on Tuesday, April 19, at 12 PM EST. Join Lanetta Garner, a Peer Support Specialist, as she discusses her experiences working at Human Solutions Women's Shelters, and Alicia Roach, an experienced doula from Oregon. Jessica Katz (The Family Preservation Project), Lesley Mondeaux (Northwest Mothers Milk Bank), and Carrie Cohen (Portland State University) will also share their work in supporting families and children of incarcerated mothers. Register here! 

This is the third webinar of 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. 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

Webinar: Strengthening Supports for Families of People Who Are Incarcerated
Join the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the National Reentry Resource Center, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for “Strengthening Supports for Families of People Who Are Incarcerated” on April 19 from 12:00 pm –1:15 pm EST. Hear from Ann Adalist-Estrin (Director for the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated) and Valerie Carpico (Senior Policy Analyst for the Corrections and Reentry, CSG Justice Center). See below for an event description, and register here

Event Description: “Building and maintaining family relationships is an essential part of a person’s reentry, yet family members often experience trauma, financial difficulties, and other challenges due to incarceration. In this webinar, presenters will discuss strategies for supporting parents who are incarcerated and their families, including engaging children’s caregivers in reentry planning and incorporating families’ voices in program implementation. The webinar will also address the importance of purposeful and sustainable partnerships between community organizations and correctional agencies to effectively serve families.”

Recent Research:
Equivalency of Pregnancy Care in British Prisons: Case Study 
In her recent analysis for the British Journal of Midwifery, Naomi Delap (Director of the charity Birth Companions) critically examines whether the principle of  “equivalence of care” is being attained in British prisons following the death of a newborn baby at Her Majesty’s Prison Styal in 2020. She concludes: “As a society, we cannot go on believing that the prison system will ever be a safe or appropriate place for pregnancy or birth. The logical response to the evidence must be a clear and conscious decision to avoid the imprisonment of pregnant women in all but the most exceptional circumstances.”

Identifying Evidence-Based Interventions for Children of Incarcerated Parents 
In their recent review, Matz, Mayzer, and Herberholz consider “Interventions Pertinent to Children of Incarcerated Parents” (COIP). The authors aimed to identify interventions for COIP which have received “considerable empirical attention” and identified the following interventions: perinatal programming, postnatal programming, parenting programs, contact with imprisoned parents, youth mentoring, individual and family therapy, group therapy, coping strategies, and interventions aimed to support grandparents raising children with incarcerated parents. The authors conclude: “With exception perhaps of services for imprisoned pregnant women, there is insufficient research specific to the COIP population to make a definitive conclusion about ‘what works.’ Rather, there are a variety of promising solutions that may work.” They call for further investigation in order to implement evidence-based solutions to better support incarcerated people and their families. 

Impact of Incarceration Exposure on Maternal and Child Health
In their recent study, Lee and colleagues explored associations between incarceration exposure and maternal and child health outcomes. Researchers used the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to estimate the prevalence of incarceration exposure during the 12 months before giving birth. “Incarceration exposure” captured both direct maternal incarceration, and indirect exposure to incarceration through a partner. They found that pregnant people with incarceration exposure had increased odds of prepregnancy hypertension, pre- pregnancy and postpartum depressive symptoms, and having an infant admitted to intensive care. The authors highlight a critical need for further research, and pre- and postnatal care to mitigate adverse maternal and child health outcomes associated with incarceration. 

Opioid Use During Pregnancy and Incarceration
In their study, Testa, Fahmy, and Jackson used data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to explore associations between incarceration exposure and opioid use during pregnancy. They found that “...women exposed to incarceration during pregnancy—either personally or vicariously through a partner—were more likely to report using opioids during pregnancy than women not exposed to incarceration during pregnancy. In addition, the findings revealed that incarceration-exposed women were also more likely to report illicit prescription opioid use during pregnancy.” The authors argue this intersection of incarceration, trauma, pregnancy, and substance use requires trauma-informed, evidence-based, and preventative strategies in order to promote well-being for both pregnant people and their babies. 

Toolkit: Improving Outcoms for Women in the Criminal Justice System 
Check out a list of resources for professionals dedicated to improving outcomes for incarcerated women and girls from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. Vorpahl reports: “Women’s pathways to and needs within the justice system are often different from those of men. Unfortunately, most justice policies and practices have historically not been designed with women in mind. They often fail to address the distinct issues that contribute to many women being involved in the system, including domestic violence and abuse, trauma, poverty, mental illnesses, and substance use disorders. To be effective, reduce recidivism, and ultimately improve outcomes for all people, criminal justice system responses should be tailored to account for these gender differences.” 
Recent News:

In California: Judge Overturns 11-Year Prison Sentence for the Mother of a Stillborn Baby
In 2017, after delivering a stillborn baby, Adora Perez was charged with murder because her son had methamphetamine in his system. Perez pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and has since served four years of an eleven year sentence. Her sentence has recently been overturned due to an unlawful plea agreement. California Attorney General Rob Bonta stated: ​​“This decision is a good first step towards affirming what we know to be true, no woman should be penalized for the loss of her pregnancy… Bottom line: Pregnant individuals will be protected by the law, not criminalized by it.”

In New York: Shackled During Birth- A First-Hand Account 
In a recent piece for The Marshall Project, Rebecca Figueroa reflects on her pregnancy and birth experiences while detained in a New York Jail in 2006. Figueroa was shackled during labor, was not allowed a support person, and was not permitted skin to skin contact or breastfeeding initiation following her daughter’s birth. Figueroa writes, “No one told me what would happen, or how to prepare to have a baby when you’re incarcerated.” Today, Figueroa is working towards an associate’s degree at Suffolk County Community College in the Addiction Studies program. She wants to become a substance abuse counselor for incarcerated women and women recovering from substance dependency. 

In Oregon: College Classes at Coffee Creek Women's Prisons 
Deb Arthur, an associate professor at Portland State University, and the Department of Corrections are providing higher education to incarcerated people in Coffee Creek Women’s Prison. Men’s prisons in Oregon have offered similar opportunities for years. Arthur reports before 2019 “...there was no higher education in any kind of degree pathway for women and trans-identified and non binary folks at Coffee Creek.” Lanelle Rowe, a former student, reflects on her participation saying: “I wanted to explore my future upon release, and be able to enter the world, not only with job skills, but also build my worldview.” The program offers general education requirements, and prepares students to complete their degrees upon release. In 2023, college education will be more accessible to previously incarcerated individuals because they are now eligible to receive federal student aid since Congress lifted the ban on Pell Grants

Nationally: Menstrual Indignities in Carceral Settings 
Gabrielle A. Perry is a formerly incarcerated woman, an epidemiologist, and the founder of the Thurman Perry Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting incarcerated women and girls. Perry recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post detailing menstrual inequity in US prisons and jails. Perry writes“The lack of access to period products can have devastating effects on reproductive health and safety, as they resort to harmful mitigation measures to maintain their dignity — or fall prey to guards’ coercion to gain access to supplies.” She calls for change, writing: “I have lived this. Thousands of women face these conditions every day.” 

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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