Mothers Behind Bars: A state-by-state report card and analysis of federal policies on conditions of conconfinement for pregnant and parenting women and the eeffect on their children.
There are now more women behind bars than at any other point in U.S. history. Women have borne a disproportionate burden of the war on drugs, resulting in a monumental increase of women who are facing incarceration for the first time, overwhelmingly for non-violent offenses. This rampant incarceration has a devastating impact on families. Most of these women, unseen and largely forgotten, are mothers. Unfortunately,
pregnant women, incarcerated women and their children are subject to federal and state correctional policies1 that fail to recognize their distinct needs or honor their families.
The Rebecca Project and the National Women’s Law Center collaborated on this Report Card, which analyzes federal and state policies on prenatal care, shackling, and alternative sentencing programs and grades states on whether their policies help or harm incarcerated women in these key areas.2 This effort is intended to help advocates assess their own state’s policies affecting these significant phases of pregnancy, labor and delivery,
The Report Card also provides an analysis of related federal laws and policies regarding conditions of confinement for women in federal prisons and immigration detention facilities. Additionally, it assesses how the federal government funds state programs that serve incarcerated pregnant or parenting women. For reasons discussed below in the federal findings section, the federal government does not receive a grade. Rather, the
Report Card identifies areas where the federal government is making commendable gains in the humane treatment of incarcerated women who are pregnant or parenting and provides specific recommendations for areas that need improvement.
Ultimately, our goal is to encourage federal and state governments to reevaluate policies that fail to protect the interests of this growing at-risk population and adopt policies that recognize the needs of incarcerated pregnant women and mothers, as well as their children. But we also know that good laws and policies are not enough.
Just as critical is whether state and federal institutions actually comply with what is required and whether they punish and correct violations. Just because a state has a high grade in any particular area does not mean that the pregnant and parenting women in that state are benefiting from the good policy. To the contrary, we know that
this is often not the case. In addition to encouraging policy makers to improve upon policies that affect the lives of pregnant and parenting women in prison and their children, we also hope that this Report Card will help advocates identify institutions that are violating Department of Corrections’ policies or state law. It is only when we call attention to violations and demand remediation and enforcement that laws and policies actually
accomplish their goals: improving the lives, health and future prospects of these vulnerable women and their children.
States that demonstrate a formal commitment to a woman’s civil and human rights by having policies that require pregnant women to have access to prenatal care, restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women, and maintain and strengthen the mother-child bond through the use of alternative sentencing receive the highest
marks. Grades are provided to allow comparisons between states regarding their formal laws and policies. An “A” grade does not mean that a state’s policy could not be improved to better meet the needs of pregnant and parenting women who are incarcerated.
While the Report Card also examines states’ prison nursery programs, it is important to note that such programs are far less desirable than sentencing these mothers to a community-based non-institutional setting.
The same characteristics that render women eligible for participation in a prison nursery program, including being convicted of a non-violent offense, are very similar to those that would render them eligible for alternative sentencing, if states chose to make such an option available. Therefore the Report Card does not factor prison nurseries into the states’ overall composite grade, although it acknowledges the states which have
Link to full report: mothers behind bars report-2010