The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

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The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

Best of SNO

The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

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Pregnancy, Periods, and Prison

Across the country, incarcerated women face a severe lack of reproductive health care.
“Jail Cell” by abardwell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
A study done by the National Library of Medicine shows that 80% of women face an unmet need for feminine hygiene products and a high risk of pregnancy complications.

The issue of the treatment of women in prisons is one that affects many, yet is often not talked about enough. Reproductive health is neglected on a social and legal scale. In the past 50 years, the number of incarcerated women has increased an astounding 908%. As the fastest growing group of prisoners in the U.S., it is important that light is shed on the experiences of women in prison and the trauma they experience. 

The laundry list of difficulties women in prison face does not often come up in conversation. One of the most difficult situations on this list is pregnant women who are incarcerated. 

A video done by National Geographic follows the story of Jill Nuland, who was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland. Upon arriving in prison she was three months pregnant. Shortly after her arrival, she learned that she would be having twins. Nuland originally thought that she would possibly receive extra protection due to her current circumstance, but she was mixed in with the other prisoners and received little to no care.

 As violence is a common occurrence in prison, Nuland feared for the safety of her pregnancy. 

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“If there was a fight, you know it would be easy for me to get bumped into,” Nuland states in the video. “Anything could happen and that scared me.”

Dr. Carolyn Sufrin is a Gynecology and Obstetrics professor at John Hopkins and has done extensive research on clinical care and raised awareness surrounding reproductive care for pregnant women in prison. 

In a video done by Johns Hopkins Medicine, she discusses the variability in care within prison walls. While some prisons do provide adequate, comprehensive pregnancy care, many provide substandard care or none at all. 

Under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, prisons are required to give all detainees adequate health care; however, there is a lack of federal regulation that ensures that pregnant people are getting the required care they need throughout their trimesters and the birthing process. 

For example, in the court case Bryant vs. Maffucci, an abortion was requested; however, due to inefficiency of the prison staff, the abortion was scheduled too late to be performed. The staff was found not guilty but rather negligent, which was not viewed as a constitutional violation. 

While there is an apparent lack of care and protection towards pregnant women on a national scale, the lack of resources and awareness surrounding menstruation is just as severe. 

Women often receive an insufficient amount of period products while in jail. In fact, 38 states do not require the provision of menstrual products to incarcerated members. Kimberly Haven, a former inmate, raised her voice about her experience.

An organization known as The Period Project covered her and fellow inmate Topeka K.Sam’s story.

They reported, “Like many of her fellow inmates, she resorted to using ‘homemade’ products rather than enduring the degrading and dehumanizing experience of begging for more from prison staff. Haven needed a hysterectomy after suffering toxic shock syndrome from using her own ‘homemade’ menstrual products after she was unable to secure an adequate supply while incarcerated in a Maryland prison.”

Interviewed by  reproductive advocacy site ACLU, Haven goes on to further talk about her experience. She discusses the lack of enough pads and tampons along with the cost of acquiring them. Women are forced to pay for these necessities in jail in either a monetary or labor form- a completely unnecessary obstacle to receiving basic, human necessities. 

This inadequate access to resources causes long-term damage to many female inmates. Inmate Topeka K. Sam has felt no shortage of pain from this injustice. 

Topeka K. Sam experienced the pain and suffering of untreated uterine fibroids and an unsuccessful surgery that caused excessive vaginal bleeding. The prison’s commissary limited the number of menstrual products she could purchase, despite her needs to manage the bleeding. To obtain additional menstrual products, she endured the demeaning and humiliating experience of showing male guards her used pads,” The Period Project reported. 

The vilification of people in prison often leads to the dismissal of these issues. A quintessential part of progress is further improving the situations of those incarcerated. While many of these women have committed crimes ranging in severity, it is important to continue to treat them as humans and provide them with fundamental care.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on March 13, 2023.