Thousands of pregnant women pass through our prison system each year. What happens to these ladies when they need the most medical care? We talk with Carolyn Sufrin who describes her experience as an OBGYN for California prison inmates in her book Jailcare: Finding the safety net for women behind bars.

Incarcerated Americans are entitled to proper health care, and Sufrin says that for the most part, they receive any treatment that they need. This “special right” to a kind of health care that is unavailable to many law-abiding citizens raises some controversial questions. Are some inmates purposely committing crimes to get access to the care they need? Sufrin says that while most prisoners do not want to end up in prison, sometimes they desire the stability of prison life to escape their lives on the outside. For pregnant women who live in troubling situations, even a prison cell might be more ideal than the alternative.

Sufrin also talks about the inhumane treatment of pregnant women prisoners that she has witnessed many times during her career, noting that sometimes they are forced to give birth in their jail cells, and those who wear shackles must keep them on through childbirth. Sufrin wants to raise awareness of these serious problems to encourage us to re-evaluate how these women should be treated and to advocate on their behalf.


  • Carolyn Sufrin, medical anthropologist, former OB/GYN at San Francisco Jail, and author of Jailcare: Finding the safety net for women behind bars

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