Female Incarceration 101

Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the United States. According to the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice, female incarceration has grown by a whopping 800% in the past three decades. Most of this increase in imprisoned women is due to mandatory minimum sentencing and the War on Drugs, which essentially criminalized addiction. Today, approximately 1/3rd of incarcerated women were charged with drug-related crimes.


Pregnancy and prison is a largely ignored issue. Yet 2,000 babies are born to incarcerated women every year in the United States. Incarcerated women are very different from incarcerated men. Most women in prison haven’t committed violent crimes and are more likely to be substance dependent, have mental health diagnoses, and be victims of violence.


Many incarcerated women have high-risk pregnancies and, unfortunately, most prisons haven’t done enough to protect these women and their unborn children. Only 18 states have laws against shackling pregnant women and women in labor, a practice proven to cause health problems. Most women aren’t allowed to have family members present during birth. The vast majority of prisons separate infants from their mothers shortly after birth. This is devestating for mothers, and can cause attachment disorders and other problems for infants later in life.


Much can be done to give these women and their infants a chance to thrive. Motherhood Beyond Bars works to provide health education, services, and support to help these women lead healthy lives for themselves and their children. Stay tuned for more information on how we work to improve the holistic health of incarcerated women and their children.

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