1. Update
  2. Criminal Justice

Stop Shackling Mothers and Start Improving Prisons

By José Santos Woss, Allison Lee, September 14, 2018


The U.S. incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world. Increasingly, women are making up the fastest growing demographic behind bars.

In fact, since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has increased by more than 700 percent. Among this large and fast growing new population of women entering prison each year, women of color make up just under 50 percent, currently a startling 46 percent. These rates are alarming considering women are traditionally the centers of our families, with unique and disproportionate caregiving burdens.

The truth is, women in American prisons are subject to inhumane treatment during childbirth. The unnecessary use of restraints during childbirth can cause distress, trauma, and negatively impact the physical and mental health of the mother. Even worse, this treatment can and will negatively affect the wellbeing of their newborn child.

Women are transported in shackles to medical facilities where they give birth. All but immediately afterward, these babies are taken from their arms while the mother is shackled once again. This is plainly inhumane and an affront to the dignity and humanity of the incarcerated women. Quakers believe God is in each life, and prisons shroud that Light through abusive and immoral conditions.

The Pregnant Women in Custody Act (H.R. 6805), introduced September 13, 2018, would create a national standard of care to address the pregnancy-related needs of incarcerated women.

Among many positive changes, the bill would prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing (another name for solitary confinement) on federal prisoners who are pregnant or have given birth within the last eight weeks. It will also require data collection on the mental and physical health of pregnant women while in custody, with a focus on pregnancy and the post-partum period.

The bill was introduced by a majority of women in both the Democratic and Republican House caucuses, including Karen Bass (D-CA), Mia Love (R-UT), and Katherine Clark (D-MA).

This bill is an important and necessary step towards improving the treatment and overall wellbeing of incarcerated American women. Please urge your representatives to co-sponsor Representative Karen Bass’ Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act.

José Santos Woss

  • Legislative Manager, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

José is the Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. He co-Chairs the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.

Allison Lee

  • Program Assistant, Domestic Policy

Allison Lee works alongside José Woss on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. Her primary responsibilities include lobbying members of Congress, writing policy updates, and conducting legislative research. She has always been very passionate about dismantling systems that promote racial disparities.