Incarcerated Women and Health Care

Women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people in the United States. In Pennsylvania, there were more than 5,000 women in state correctional facilities in April 2014; there are an additional 4,500 women housed in county jails on any given day . Estimates of the number of women who spend some time incarcerated in Pennsylvania are as high as 40,000 per year.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania uses a variety of advocacy tools to enhance health services for incarcerated women and has developed resources aimed at improving reproductive health services for women and girls who are behind bars.

Our newest resource is publication that examines issues facing incarcerated women who are pregnant or parenting. It provides critical information for women to help guide their decisions about pregnancy, appointing caregivers for their children or making custody arrangements, and a host of other resources.

The Duvall Project began focusing on women in jail or prison by joining the effort to ban the use of shackles and other restraints on pregnant women. Galvanized by a news story by the BBC and other media coverage, including editorials from around the state, the bill passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law in 2010. However, recent research has shown that implementation of the law is uneven. to the ACLU of Pennsylvania has called upon the Pennsylvania Attorney General to educate those who work with incarcerated women to come into full compliance with the law.

Though women are supposed to receive a basic level of health care while incarcerated, their reproductive health needs are often neglected. Women in jail or prison may have difficulty obtaining comprehensive prenatal care, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and access to abortion. A groundbreaking report by the Duvall Project published in 2012 outlines the current state of affairs and makes detailed policy suggestions.