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

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The moralizing discourses within scientific research continue even now. From this brief survey of literature on mothering in and out of prison, data acquired by medical authorities and social researchers is used to legitimate normative value judgments on policies enacted by correctional facilities. Moreover, mothering as a public affair in prison becomes a site of open investigation and findings further validate methods of surveillance condoned by the medical establishment. Tracing the recent increase of prenatal care, the rise of the unshackling movement during delivery, and the development of prison nurseries/residency programs, arguments made by the medical establishment to “improve” living conditions for pregnant prisoners can be seen in the larger context of their support of prison institutions as a means to increase their influence and impose their control over women’s bodies.

From these examples, it becomes clear that the encroachment of the medical establishment upon the sphere of law, while potentially beneficial in improving birth outcomes, may also create a space in which surveillance of women’s bodies is scrupulously monitored and controlled. The freedom then to express one’s lived experience of pregnancy with a health care professional at a prison hospital can also be seen as a means to further stigmatize their “deviance.” Although the movements outlined above provide only small examples in history of the gradual push among the medical establishment to more fully control motherhood in prison, this will to power is not without its difficulties, and may, in some instances, create even greater restrictions on women’s limited sense of autonomy in prison.

1 Steven M. Safyer and Lynn Richmond, “Pregnancy Behind Bars,” Seminars in Perinatology, Vol. 19, No. 4 (August 1995), 314.

2 Ginette G. Ferszt and Jennifer G. Clarke, “Health Care of Pregnant Women in U.S. State Prisons,” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Vol. 23, No. 2 (May 2012), 557.

3 Paul Guerino, Paige M. Harrison, and William J. Sabol, Statisticians for the U.S. Department of Justice. Prisoners in 2010. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. (NCJ 236096). (Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, December 2011, Revised 2/9/2012): 2.

4 Judith Merenda Wismont, “The Lived Pregnancy Experience of Women in Prison,” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, Vol. 45, No. 4 (August 2000): 295-297.

5 Jenni Vainik, “The Reproductive and Parental Rights of Incarcerated Mothers,” Family Court Review, Vol. 46, No. 4 (October 2008),676-677.

6 Ella Laura Johannaber, “Teaching Prepared Childbirth to Women in Prison,” International Journal of Childbirth Education, Vol.21, No. 2 (June 2006), 10-12; Jenni Vainik, “The Reproductive and Parental Rights,” 670-694.

7 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 85.

8 Robert Johnson, Ania Dobrzanska, and Seri Palla, “The American Prison in Historical Perspective: Race, Gender, and Adjustment,” Prisons Today and Tomorrow, ed. Joycelyn M. Pollock, (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2006), 33.

9 Estelle B. Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930, (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1984), 10-11.

10 L. Mara Dodge, “Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind”: A Study of Women, Crime, and Prisons, 1835-2000, (DeKalb, Il: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006), 16.

11 Dana M. Britton, At Work in the Iron Cage: The Prison as Gendered Organization, (New York City, NY: New York University Press, 2003), 28-29; Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers, 16.

12 Ibid., 16.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 19-20.

16 Ibid., 14.

17 Dodge, “Whores and Thieves,” 16.

18 Ibid., 17.

19 Ibid., 17.

20 Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers, 110.

21 Ibid., 125.

22 Ibid., 113.

23 Ibid., 114.

24 Ibid., 115.

25 Ibid., 117-118.

26 Ibid., 18.

27 Ibid., 117.

28 Ibid., 119-120.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 120.

31 Samuel Pillsbury, “Understanding Penal Reform: The Dynamic of Change,” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 80, No. 3 (Autumn 1989), 742-743.

32 Ibid., 743.

33 Ibid.

34 Dodge, “Whores and Thieves,”19.

35 Ibid., 127-139.

36 Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers, 46-52.

37 Dodge, “Whores and Thieves,”8.

38 Ibid., 209.

39 Ibid., 201-204

40 Ibid., 204-219.

41 Britton, At Work in the Iron Cage, 41

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Pillsbury, “Understanding Penal Reform,” 753.

45 Ibid., 755.

46 Tammy L. Anderson, “Issues in the Availability of Healthcare for Women in Prison.” Pp. 49-60 in The Incarcerated Woman: Rehabilitative Programming in Women’s Prisons, edited by S. F. Sharp and R. Muraskin. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003): 1-9.

47 Ibid., 7.

48 Vainik, “The Reproductive and Parental Rights,” 676-677.

49 Ibid., 676.

50 Anderson, “Issues in the Availability,” 3.

51 Michel Foucault, “Right to Death and Power Over Life,” Part Five of The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, (New York City, NY: Random House, Inc., 1978), 144.

52 Peter Conrad, “Medicalization and Social Control,” Annual Reviews of Sociology, Vol. 18 (1992): 216.

53 Adele E. Clarke, Janet K. Shim, Laura Mamo, Jennifer Ruth Fosket, and Jennifer R. Fishman, “Biomedicalization: A Theoretical and Substantive Introduction,” Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S., (Durham & London, UK: Duke University Press, 2010), 2.

54 Ian Whitmarsh and David S. Jones, What’s The Use of Race? Modern Governance and the Biology of Difference, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010), 16.

55 Elizabeth Grosz, Volative Bodies: Towards Corporeal Feminism, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994), 148.

56 Agamben, Homo Sacer, 91.

57 Sharon Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 1-18.

58 Safyer and Richmond, “Pregnancy Behind Bars,” 314-321.

59 Marian Knight and Emma Plugge, “The Outcomes of Pregnancy among Imprisoned Women: A Systematic Review,” BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Vol. 112, (November 2005), 1467-1474.

60 Ibid., 1467.

61 Judith Merenda Wismont, “The Lived Pregnancy of Women in Prison,” Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, Vol. 45, No. 4 (August 2000), 299.

62 Ibid., 293.

63 Safyer and Richmond, “Pregnancy Behind Bars,” 321.

64 Suzanne Allen, Chris Flaherty, and Gretchen Ely, “Throwaway Moms: Maternal Incarceration and the Criminalization of Female Poverty,” Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, Vol. 25, No. 2 (2010), 170.

65 John Hagan and Holly Foster, “Children of the American Prison Generation: Student and School Spillover effects of Incarcerating Mothers,” Law & Society Review, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2012), 37-62; Rosa Minhyo Cho, “Maternal Incarceration and Children’s Adolescent Outcomes: Timing and Dosage,” Social Service Review, Vol. 84, No. 2 (June 2010), 257-282; Stephanie Bush-Baskette, “The War on Drugs and the Incarceration of Mothers,” Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Fall 2000), 923-924; Vainik, 682-683.

66 Johannaber, “Teaching Prepared Childbirth,” 10.

67 Ibid., 11.

68 Ferszt and Clarke, “Health Care,” 565-567.

69 *Texas Criminal Justice System

70 Andrea Bos, Matthew Simpson, and Diana Claitor, “Implementation of Laws Regarding Treatment of Pregnant Women in Texas County Jails: A Review of the Shackling Ban and Pregnant Inmate Care Standards, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas & Texas Jail Project (August 2011), 5.

71 Ibid., 16.

72 Cristina Constantini, “Should a Woman Be Shackled While Giving Birth? Most States Think So.” ABC News, October 10, 2012. Accessed December 13, 2012.


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