Saturday, March 24, 2012

LEGAL WORLD : Pregnant Women in Prison

Pregnant Women in Prison: Are They Safe?
You would think that imprisoned, pregnant women would be treated with a little more care. You know, given the proper treatment and provided protection for her and the fetus from any medical abnormalities. We’ve all met someone who has given birth, and we hear the stories of morning sickness (puking for days at a time) and all the cravings you can possibly think of. It takes a toll on a woman’s body. 

So now, imagine going through this in prison. Not a lovely picture at all, right? Just think of how horrible it must be to carry a pregnancy to term without the support of your family, friends, and partner! What’s worse, the medical treatment doesn’t even compensate for their lack of emotional support.
It’s not a popular topic. Most people don’t even realize just how bad the situation is. They constantly experience negligence from the prison doctors, which usually means they receive poor prenatal care. Whatever the doctor tells them is what they have to go with, nothing else. They don’t have the right to go to another doctor if they are unsatisfied. If they want any other information, they can go to the library. And that’s if they haven’t been stripped of their library privileges. It’s also the norm for these women to receive less than adequate checkups. The doctors that see them aren’t able to sit down and talk to their patients about the benefits of certain herbs; the advantages of eating a specific diet or simply to ease their feelings of anxiety. More often than not, women are given brochures. Like that’s supposed to make them feel any better.

Women (or their babies/both) have died because of the medical neglect. These deaths are the results of many careless mistakes such as: not being diagnosed properly, charts being overlooked, even having the woman give birth LOCKED UP in the cell, without anyone there to help her. 

The government itself has often times shared its concern about women giving birth at home because they fear complications will arise and jeopardize the woman and child. Ironically, the prisons that are government-funded facilities do just that. They say they care for the well being of the woman, child, and community, but then again you hear and read about women being shackled during labor. This act poses a threat to the life of both the mother and child because doctors are not able to provide the proper care the procedure requires. True, they are convicted felons and some are a danger to the people around them. But, I’m a bit skeptical about pregnant women in labor being capable of hurting others. How much damage could a woman pushing a child from her body really procure? From what I hear, labor pain can be quite unbearable. I doubt they could escape, even if they tried.

The physical pain is awful, but what follows is worse. Once giving birth, imprisoned women are forced to separate from their children. Immediately after, these children are given to the next of kin. And the women are left, tired, emotionally overwhelmed, and sad. What should be one of the happiest days of a woman’s life is suddenly the worst and most frustrating moment. 

Pregnant women in prison don’t have rights, at least not yet. Soon they will though. Recent legislation in varies states have at least made it clear that shackling is a violation of a woman’s constitutional right (the American Medical Association also rejects shackling). And hopefully, more and more states come to find that every woman giving birth must be taken care of and given the medical treatment they deserve, regardless of their status in the eyes of society.

The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
 Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer! 

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