Notes from CLPP: Prisons as Agents of Reproductive Oppression.

12 Apr

This weekend, busloads of progressives gathered at Hampshire College for the annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference, this year called From Abortion Rights to Social Change: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom.  I learned so much there, and while the space was definitely problematic at times, I want to share my notes from all the sessions so those who weren’t there (or were in different sessions) can learn too.

Here are the highlights from my notes from the session Prisons as Agents of Reproductive Oppression.

From Imani Walker, Co-Founder of The Rebecca Project for Human Rights:

  • The majority of women in prison are there for non-violent, drug related crimes
  • Experience of victimization starts in girlhood
  • Many incarcerated women are dealing with past abuse and self medicate with drugs

From Amanda Grace Scheper & Theresa Martinez of Justice Now:
  • Justice Now gathers information about abuses in CA women’s prisons and tries to remedy them within a human rights framework
  • Participatory documentation model – involving those who are impacted by abuses & documenting abuses for themselves & peers
  • 41 people in CA women’s prisons are trained as documentors
  • There is neglectful & abusive medical care in prisons where the population is  already at high risk for abuse, mental health issues
  • Doctors ignore obvious signs of problems, use degrading language
  • Women are thought to be  lying/drug seeking, must be English-speakers, must be articulate in writing and speaking to access care at all
  • Some of the documented harms in prisons: hysterectomies pushed as first response to ovarian cysts, coerced and forced sterilization due to incorrect diagnosis and under sedation, wrong ovaries removed in response to ovarian cysts
  • Many women lose the ability to reproduce due to bad reproductive health care
  • Many women are in prison during child bearing years, kept in prison for longer & longer
  • Women and people of color prosecuted at larger rates

From Gabriel Arkles, Staff Attorney at Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

  • Prisons often destroy the reproductive potential of trans people, trans people of color especially as they are more likely to be incarcerated
  • We have to work to change the cultural myths about health care trans people receive, it’s not just sex change operation, but may be hormones, surgeries, none or a combination of these things
  • If someone is receiving medical treatment, there are serious health  consequences for stopping because of incarceration
  • Some types of medical treatment that trans people get impact reproduction, but not all
  • Trans people more likely to be incarcerated because they face a lot of discrimination, more likely to be poor/homeless, criminalization of poverty, profiled by police, perceived to be engaged in sex work,  immigration detention
  • Prison policies don’t seem to care about reducing sexual violence, more concerned about preventing pregnancy
  • Some trans people in prison may resort to self-induced surgery as a result of not being able to get the medical treatment they want/need
  • Terrible or no HIV care in prisons
  • Prisons often resort to gender-related assumptions about who needs what sort of care
  • Bias among prison staff/medical staff
  • Prisons generally withhold safe sex supplies – condoms etc
  • Trans people are often not able to parent the children they want, barriers to parenting their own children or adopting
  • Prison system prevents people from making decisions about their own bodies
  • Prison system may require people have treatment to end their ability to reproduce biologically
  • Prisons tend to lock people up during their reproductive years
  • Prisons keep trans people segregated from those who they can have children with

From Diana Kasdan of ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:

  • A woman in prison does not lose right to have an abortion if she wants
  • Prison staff don’t trust women to know what’s going on with their bodies
  • In some communities, there are community based groups who bring care to prisons
  • Ultimate form of control — incarceration

There is SO MUCH to talk about here, I don’t even know where to begin. Knowledge is power, and now that we have that knowledge, we need to go forward and start changing this shit.

Thoughts on further action?

2 Responses to “Notes from CLPP: Prisons as Agents of Reproductive Oppression.”

  1. NYCprochoiceMD April 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    In addition to the mountain of abuses incarcerated women must endure that you mentioned, I have seen several others in my work as a physician. Pregnant women can be shackled during labor and often are, even if they are non-violent offenders. Women often do not have the option to stay with their newborns; the child is generally taken away within 1-2 days and sent to foster care or to live with a relative. This deprives the mothers and babies of the opportunity to gain the benefits of breastfeeding. In addition, the mother loses a precious opportunity to bond with her child. One of my patients was brought back to prison before she could see her child go into the arms of someone she trusted; this can be traumatic. Some prisons have programs to allow mothers to stay with their newborns, but not all.

    Although women are required to have access to abortion, getting it done and getting it paid for are another story. Many prison officials are misinformed about the policies regarding abortions. In addition, if a woman is in a federal prison her abortion cannot be paid for by the prison due to the Hyde Amendment, adding further barriers.

  2. placenta sandwich April 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    Yep – my two cents as an abortion-access case manager – incarcerated women have the right to abortion and precious little access to it. Not every doctor, lawyer or even clinic counselor is even aware that you still have the right to an abortion when in prison.

    If your phone calls are limited in prison but you live in a state where the law doesn’t permit anyone to make the appointment for you, that will be an early hurdle. Obviously you have no income (or earn the ignominious 25 cents an hour that work programs offer) and often have no family financial support either — yet it’s not just the abortion you have to pay for. Frequently you also have to pay for your own transport to the clinic as well as the wages of the guards assigned to take you there. It’s a terrible joke they play on pregnant women, and seems like going out of their way to be cruel.

    Thanks for this post. A lot of the topics here are SUPER interesting and under-advocated. Going to post the link at our fb page now…you rock.

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