Bodies in a Zone of Indistinction: a history of the Biomedicalization of Pregnancy in Prison



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Motherhood in Prison

After delivery, some inmates have the opportunity to see their infants through prison nursery and residency programs, which allow mothers to stay with their infants between a maximum of 30 days to 36 months.76 Advocacy surrounding the advent of these programs has centered on psychological and sociological studies conducted on women participating in prison nurseries, and medical endorsements to expand “scientific” research to further motherhood initiatives carry great clout as “evidence” for best practices in prison. The following excerpts from such studies also indicate a biomedical system of quantification of something as ephemeral as well-being within prison and a financial quantification of less State spending with lower recidivism rates.

Studying the bonding patterns of infants with mothers in a prison nursery, researchers Byrne, Goshin, and Joestl found that infant attachment style was not dramatically different from those in the “free” world:

Using intergenerational data collected with rigorous methods, this study

provides the first evidence that mother in a prison nursery setting can raise

infants who are securely attached to them at rates comparable to healthy

community children, even when the mother’s own internal attachment

representation has been categorized as insecure.77


In observing the interactions of mother and child and labeling some mothers’ attachment style as insecure, this study concurrently serves to further categorize some inmates’ psychology as somehow unhealthy, yet it also provides the hope that even these deviant women might still be able to forge strong, intimate connections with their infants (and for healthy citizens). This study, along with other research legitimizing prison nurseries as efficacious, contributes to a growing body of work suggesting that prison nurseries may be helpful for the well-being of the mother and child.

In addition, others like Chandra Kring Villanueva advocate for further “scientific” research to help prove the efficacy of such reforms to current prison models:






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