A bill that allows pregnant women who have been convicted of a crime to finish their pregnancy in their communities and homes may, to some people, seem as though it is a "soft on crime" policy.
However, the reality is that the women, families, and the government have a lot to gain from implementing this policy and passing the Women's CARE Act in Georgia and all over the country. Georgia already has the highest maternal mortality rate; the danger of women being pregnant in prison increases it exponentially.
In the United States, our policing and carceral systems are used to punish people rather than to rehabilitate and support people. Most people end up in prison after every other system has failed them, and society tries to discard them. That is a problem. In the United States mass incarceration disproportionately affects women of color. Women who are pregnant and convicted should not be punished for being pregnant by enduring inhumane conditions. If our system is built on letting people serve time for the crime they were convicted of, we as citizens must push society to see how it is cruel and unusual punishment not to give pregnant incarcerated women prenatal care, access to increased caloric intake, resources to support their baby post-birth, mental health support during and following pregnancy, adoption services, and more. All of these responsibilities would be eliminated by the prisons and taxpayers if women were allowed to carry out their term at home and in turn by the citizens. Prisons have proven themselves incapable of supplying incarcerated women with the bare minimum reproductive care and therefore should not house incarcerated pregnant people. It can cost upwards of 200 thousand dollars to give birth without insurance, a bill that the prisons and taxpayers would have to foot every time women are pregnant and in prison.
The damage caused by a woman being pregnant and or giving birth in prison is far and wide. From the developmental missteps that will occur due to the stressful situation, the woman is in during the pregnancy to psychological issues that will arise when mother and child cannot bond through skin-to-skin contact and other newborn rituals. It has been proven that stress is a massive health determinate and can cause severe health issues and prison is a breeding ground for trauma and stress. National Center for Biotechnology Information cites “a classic developmental study by Bowlby (1969) on 44 male juvenile offenders who suffered maternal deprivation indicated that poor mother-child bonding early in life resulted in ‘affectionless psychopathy’”. Children that are adequately cared for when they are very young are more likely to be productive members of society and are less likely to be serial criminal re-offenders. Women would have the opportunity to enjoy one of life's greatest miracles through the support of their family or community, or they would have the opportunity to make arrangements for themselves and the child. This bill is about humanizing these women and giving autonomy back to a population that has been told they are not deserving of human decency.
RestoreHER and many other organizations in Georgia are here to say that these women and children deserve better! When a pregnant woman is incarcerated, it is a life or death situation. Too often, the babies or the women do not make it out of that prison. For a state that prides itself on being pro-life, this should be a no-brainer piece of legislation. Do not punish a woman for being pregnant. Do not punish a child for having a mother in prison, and do not punish taxpayers for the prison and government’s inefficiencies.
The Women’s CARE Act has the potential to restore dignity and safety to thousands of babies and their mothers.
Sophia Howard is a Spelman graduate in Comparative Women's Studies and Philosophy currently working with RestoreHER on policy advocacy to restore safety and dignity to incarcerated women.
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