Imprisoned women shackeled to their beds when giving birth…

Here’s a post from Pete…what do you think–stratified motherhood at it’s worst?

I came across the article “Pregnancy and Prisons: Women’s Health and Rights Behind Bars”[1] which had links to several articles, one at talking about how, due to a law suit brought by a woman who gave birth in prison, Arkansas no longer shackles women
while they are giving birth.[2]

Another link is to an article, “Pregnancy in Prison: A Personal Story.” This is the story of Kebby Warner, a woman who gave birth in
prison, how she was only allowed three days with her baby after she gave birth and how the state terminated her parental rights because
she was in prison.

Looking at just these two stories, it’s clear that the intersection of gender, class, and race make motherhood more difficult for some (less
valued) mothers. Also, the comparisons between the treatment of pregnant women/mothers in US prisons and the treatment of those in
some other countries highlights the highly negative attitude in the US towards prisoners in general and their basically punitive treatment.

At the end, the original article directly asks several provocative questions:

“With pregnant women around the world not receiving health care of any sort, should additional efforts be made to benefit women who are in
prison? Is there a difference between mothers serving terms in correctional facilities and those outside? Should they be treated differently?”

I more or less reject the assumptions underlying the questions. We (the world as a whole) have more than enough resources to take care of
most, if not all, people’s health and well being. What is at issue is, what and who is/are valued. People vs. profits, punishment vs.
rehabilitation, women vs. men, us vs. the other, etc., which, interestingly enough, seems to be one of the overarching themes of
this course.

The original article is from a series for the site “Conversations for a Better World” (“a shared blog on population, gender, and
health”)[3]. At first glance this looks to be a really good site with an international perspective. Although, I haven’t read any more of the articles very critically yet, so I’m not sure how I really feel about it. One more thing to note is that the site is run by the Untied Nations Population Fund.[4] [1] “Pregnancy and Prisons: Women’s Health and Rights Behind Bars” –

[2] In Labor and In Chains –

[3] Conversations for a Better World –

[4] Untied Nations Population Fund –

1 thought on “Imprisoned women shackeled to their beds when giving birth…

  1. Woo

    Thank you, Pete, for suggesting this.

    It is most disturbing that 40 states do not have any laws against shackling prisoners during childbirth. However, on a personal note I find one of the most disturbing things to be the fact that she was only allowed 3 days with her baby. I recognize that we consider such customary in the states but strongly believe we should consider other options for women with young children. One of the links spoke about the Atwood documentary with looks internationally at women in prisons. As it suggested I do believe that we can learn much from looking at what other people do. For example, in Argentina, a law was past which said that pregnant women or women with children younger than 5 and those with handicapped children would benefit from spending their prison term at home under house arrest. This law was seen to benefit not only the mother but also the child and the child’s health. It was noted that the message for magistrates to follow was to grant such to women who were not involved in violent crimes.

    The women in the states that this article referred to was imprisoned and shackled during birth. The crime she went to prison for was credit card fraud- not a violent crime. Additionally, she requested pain medication or an epidural and was not given either! In the interview with her she said that she had already been sentenced for her crime and was serving it. Such additional punishments, such as being shackled during birth and while holding the baby, are a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Under such a situation I think that it would be better, depending on the person and their crime, to consider alternative options not only for the mother but particularly for the child. What much of this boils down to is a question of what is health and how extensive should health be? (Should she have had the right to an epidural for a 10 pound baby? Should that have been her choice? Should she have had the right to labor unshackled? Should she have had the right to be with her child?) If we believe that health is more than purely merely medical treatment and that it cannot be parsed out from broader social issues then we must consider alternative options.

    Lastly, I think that the consideration of health in imprisoned populations is particularly important to consider. There have been many policies such as mandatory STI testing enacted which have proponents on both sides of the issue. The consideration of health within such is of particular interest. Additionally, when we consider such issues in light of this weeks readings, particularly the Fine and McClelland selection questions arise as to the role of a prison. Is a prison intended as a place for punishment or is it’s role one of turning lives around. Is there a place for social programs within prisons?

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