the worst place to be pregnant or postpartum: prisons

Carceral environments do not meet, or sometimes even recognize, the basic needs of pregnant and postpartum women, according to groundbreaking research from the Pregnancy in Prison Statistics Project. We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for this week’s study “Unsupportive environments and limited policies: Pregnancy, postpartum, and birth during incarceration,” by Leah WangBelow are excerpts from the study.

Summary by: Abby Ilfeld
Summary by: Abby Ilfeld
Mckayla Buckly
Mckayla Buckly

The Study's Critical Points

  • Around 58,000 pregnant women enter jail or prison each year and many give birth or experience other outcomes during their sentence.
  • Premature birth, miscarriage, and C-Section rates were higher in some prison systems than among the general population.

  • There is a 3.3% pregnancy rate among confined youth, nearly the same as the 3.5% rate of pregnancy for incarcerated adults.

  • Paternal incarceration is also associated with adverse outcomes for babies that can have long-lasting impacts, like a low birth weight.

  • Only one-third of prisons and jails had a written policy concerning lactation.

  • Postpartum women are often left to the care of untrained staff who may not understand why lactation is important.

  • In facilities where women are allowed to lactate, their milk was sometimes cast-off and wasted because of mother-infant separation.

  • 26% of pregnant women entering prison and 14% entering jail had opioid use disorder (OUD).

  • 22 of 28 research sites offered medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) but most of these facilities, they only offered MOUD to women who had begun treatment before admission.

  • In most facilities that offered MOUD, they would discontinue treatment postpartum.

  • In one-third of the research sites, facilities would treat OUD with detoxification or “medically supervised withdrawal” which is often painful, has a high failure rate, and ultimately increases the risk of future overdoses.


The Prison Policy Initiative recommends that prisons and jails create policies for pregnancy care that follows guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and uphold the National Commission on Correctional Health Care’s standards. Additionally, the researchers are still working to investigate and understand the likely racial disparities that exist during pregnancy behind bars.


Read the whole report here.

VISUAL Breakdown

Above: A graphic depicting the disparity in mortality rates between Black and Non-Black participants within the study.


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Design Contributor for The Des, current undergraduate of design and political science at the University of Washington.