Birthing Behind Bars on WBAI's Health Action

I was on WBAI's Health Action show last night (Monday, September 24th) to discuss reproductive health care (or the lack of it) in women's prisons and WORTH's Birthing Behind Bars campaign. If you missed it, you can still listen to it on-line here:
(Page down to Health Action, Mon., Sept. 24, 11:00 p.m)

from the host Bob Lederer:

Last night on my WBAI program, "Health Action," I did an interview on the state of reproductive health care for women in jails and prisons around the country. I also explored the issue of shacking women during labor and delivery.

My guest, who gave a very informative interview, was Vikki Law, a writer, photographer and mother. She is a co-founder of Books Thru Bars NYC and is about to release two new books: One, of which she is the author, is the 2d edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women; the other, of which she is the co-editor, is Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements. Vikki is also one of the coordinators of the Birthing Behind Bars campaign of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling HerStory), a New York City advocacy group of formerly incarcerated women. Birthing Behind Bars is a national campaign to address pregnancy and other reproductive justice issues in prison.

Here is some background information from Birthing Behind Bars:

Each year, thousands of women enter prison while pregnant. Most will spend their pregnancies behind bars. They often encounter substandard, if not life-threatening, medical care during their pregnancies. Once a week in this country, a woman behind bars goes into labor and gives birth. In 34 states, women are still subject to being shackled during labor and delivery.

A 2010 survey of women's prisons found that only eight states provided prenatal medical exams, that nineteen provided proper prenatal nutrition and that only seventeen provided screenings and treatments for high-risk pregnancies.

Shackling a woman by her wrists and ankles hampers her ability to move to alleviate the pain of her contractions. This increases stress on the woman's body and may decrease the flow of oxygen to her fetus. Medical professionals, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Nurse-Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, believe that shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery is unsafe and dangerous to the health and lives of the mother and the baby.

In 34 states, women are still subject to being shackled during labor and delivery. Only 16 states have any sort of legislation/protection either limiting or banning the shackling of pregnant women during labor and delivery. In 2009, New York State passed legislation to end the shackling of incarcerated women during labor, delivery and recovery. Crucial to the passing of that bill were the voices, insights and analyses of women who had experienced birth behind bars. Members of WORTH, an organization of currently and formerly incarcerated women in New York, spoke about being pregnant while in jail and prison, being handcuffed and shackled while in labor, and being separated from their newborn babies almost immediately. Their stories drew public attention to the issue and put human faces on the pending legislation.

A bill opposing the shackling of pregnant prisoners was passed unanimously by the California State Legislature at the end of August and is now on Governor Jerry Brown's desk, with thirty days to either approve or veto it. Last year, a previous version of this bill was also passed unanimously by the Legislature, but it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown under pressure from the California State Sheriffs' Association.

According to Vikki Law's book, Prison Health Services, a for-profit corporation, has won hundreds of millions of contracts to provide health care in NYS prisons and jails. A yearlong investigation by the NY Times found that the care provided by PHS was often deficient, flawed, and/or lethal.

Vikki Law is doing a book release party (along with other speakers) for Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women on Thursday, October 11th, 7 PM, at Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen Street in Lower Manhattan. For more on the event, go to For details on the book, go to

Also, Vikki will be doing a reading from her other new book, Don't Leave Your Friends Behind, on Saturday, October 6th @ 7PM, also at Bluestockings.

For more on the issues Vikki discussed on the program, go to