WOMEN IN PRISON: The Purgatory Of Being Invisible

Women are the less visible victims of COVID-19 behind bars.

They are so often overlooked in a criminal justice system that was not designed for them. Though only a small number have died—at least 13 reported as of Wednesday—their stories illuminate the unique problems women face in prison.

They also reflect the all-too-common ways they get there in the first place: drug addiction and violence involving the men in their lives.

The vast majority of women behind bars are mothers—by some estimates, as many as 80 percent. Many were raising kids on their own before getting locked up.

And measures to slow the virus, including eliminating prison visitation and restricting access to phones, have cut off communication to their children and families on the outside.

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FOCUS ON THE INCARCERATED FAMILY

A recent study that I conducted as a doctor and Johns Hopkins OBGYN researcher estimated that from 2016 to 2017, there were nearly 3,000 admissions of pregnant women to U.S. prisons and 55,000 to jails.

Thousands are at risk for contracting COVID in custody and exposing their babies to danger.

As a physician and an attorney who work with populations that are pregnant and incarcerated, we have seen dangerous variability in their care.

There is a dearth of protections for them, leaving many vulnerable to inadequate medical care and abuse: loss of reproductive choices, shackling during childbirth and solitary confinement, as well as the inevitable separation from their newborns.

During COVID-19 crisis, prioritize release of pregnant inmates.

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