The United States continues to incarcerate its citizens at a rate higher than any country in the world, a staggering 1 in 56 women will spend time in a prison, jail, or on probation during her lifetime. Of the 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States, it’s estimated that 25% are pregnant or have a child under the age of one at the time of their incarceration. In Georgia, between 50-100 women give birth while incarcerated every year. Incarcerated women often have complicated histories of substance dependence, poverty, trauma, mental health issues, and chronic health conditions. Children who grow up with an incarcerated parent fare worse on a wide range of economic, behavioral and educational outcomes.
Despite these significant barriers to recovery, many incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women see their time in jail or prison as a time of transformation. Incarcerated women face years of separation from their children with a buoyant hope that motivates them to adopt healthier habits and change negative patterns of behavior. This unique opportunity to positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable families in our society is often lost as prisons and jails are not equipped to provide the care and support these women need to thrive.
Although Georgia’s prisons offer basic clinical prenatal care, internal prison policies often inadvertently re-traumatize rather than help pregnant and post-partum women. Historically, incarcerated women have not had consistent access to parenting classes, psychosocial support or opportunities for increased exercise. Just 24-48 hours after they give birth they are separated from their newborns and returned to general population and have limited access to mental health experts trained in postpartum heath.