Measuring Attitudes Toward Pregnant Women who are Incarcerated in a University Sample

AuthorRachel A. Clark,Kathryn Lasich,Emily Sluiter,Taylor Burman,Simran Jagirdar,Hannah Garavaglia,Neha Gogineni,Harshini Sakthivel,Miranda Manzo,Ruby Tapia
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Measuring Attitudes Toward
Pregnant Women who are
Incarcerated in a University
Rachel A. Clark
, Kathryn Lasich
Emily Sluiter
, Taylor Burman
Simran Jagirdar
, Hannah Garavaglia
Neha Gogineni
, Harshini Sakthivel
Miranda Manzo
, and Ruby Tapia
Public attitudes toward people who are incarcerated have been studied; however, there is a paucity of
information regarding how the public views pregnant women who are incarcerated. Weconducted a
quantitative and qualitative assessment investigating attitudes toward pregnant women who are incar-
cerated and prison conditions at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Participants included 507 stu-
dents, staff, and faculty who were asked to specif‌ically consider pregnant women who are incarcerated
while completing the survey. Wefound that women, younger people, non-religious or non-Christian
individuals, and those with higher levels of formal education perceived pregnant women who are incar-
cerated more positively and favored less punitive prison conditions. In addition, closer proximity to
people who are incarcerated was associated with more positive attitudes toward pregnant women
who are incarcerated but was not related to views on prison conditions. Qualitatively, participants
reported that considering pregnant women who are incarcerated led them to respond with the
same or less negativity than if they had been asked to consider people who are incarcerated as a
whole, citing factors such as gender stereotypes and concern for the child. These results can be
used as a foundation to understand how students, faculty, and staff at a large Midwestern university
perceive pregnant women who are incarcerated and to inform education and policy efforts.
pregnant, incarcerated, attitudes, women, gender
Received January 19, 2021; revised August 30, 2021; accepted September 6, 2021
University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, East Lansing, MI, USA
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Corresponding Author:
Rachel A. Clark, University of Michigan Medical School, 1135 Catherine St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2022, Vol. 47(4) 484-502
© 2021 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168211050428
Conducting research about how the public views pregnant women who are incarcerated is impor-
tant, as policy changes regarding this population are urgently needed. The rate by which women are
incarcerated is increasing: over the past 40 years, womens state prison populations have grown
about 834%, a rate twice that of mens state prison growth (Sawyer, 2018). With this increase
in the number of women who are incarcerated, gender-responsive policies and understanding are
needed in the criminal legal system. For example, the majority of women who are incarcerated
are of childbearing age and some will be pregnant upon entering prison (Carson, 2018). Of a
sample of women incarcerated in 22 state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons
from 2016 to 2017, approximately 3.8% or 1396 were pregnant upon entering prison (Sufrin
et al., 2019). Furthermore, from 2017 to 2019, there were 1220 pregnant women in custody of
the US Marshals Service and 524 in custody of the Bureau of Prisons (United States
Government Accountability Off‌ice, 2021). We recognize the term incarceration encompasses
state control including, but not limited to, jails, juvenile facilities, parole, and probation;
however, throughout this article, the term incarcerated is used to refer to people in state and
federal prisons.
Pregnant women who are incarcerated have additional needs compared to people who are
incarcerated in general, such as prenatal care. However, in a study by the Bureau of Justice
Statistics, only slightly over half (54%) of pregnant women who are incarcerated reported
receiving prenatal care (Maruschak, 2008). Furthermore, pregnant women who are incarcerated
face traumas such as separation from their infant soon after birth or possibly being shackled
during labor or postpartum; nine states allow shackling during labor and delivery, 34 states
allow it in the postpartum period, and a large majority (83%) of labor and delivery nurses
surveyed across the US stated that their patients who are incarcerated were shackled some
or all of the time (Goshin et al., 2019; Thomas & Lanterman, 2019). There are also many bar-
riers to breastfeeding including separation from the infant and lack of access to pumping
equipment (Friedman et al., 2020). These studies depict the growing need for policies that
ref‌lect the unique challenges and vulnerabilities pregnant incarcerated women face. An under-
standing of how the public views this population can be used to further these necessary
policy changes.
Furthermore, people who are or have been incarcerated face stigma and negative attitudes from
the general public. The perception or experience of stigma and negative attitudes can contribute to
diff‌iculty in transitioning back into the community and weaker social bonds for people who have
been incarcerated (LeBel, 2012; Moore et al., 2016). Particularly relevant to pregnant women who
are incarcerated, children with parents who are incarcerated also face stigma and negative percep-
tions (Luther, 2016). In addition, attitudes toward individuals in a group are related to attitudes
about policies impacting them (Cottrell et al., 2010). Therefore, as the number of women who are
incarcerated continues to grow, it is important to investigate the publics attitudes toward this pop-
ulation as well as policies related to the prison conditions this population lives in to help inform advo-
cacy and education efforts.
Current literature has paid little attention to subgroups within the incarcerated population, such as
pregnant women who are incarcerated and the publics attitudes toward these people. To the best of
our knowledge, no studies have examined how the general public specif‌ically perceives women or
pregnant women who are incarcerated. However, Goshin et al. (2020) have investigated the
stigma nurses have toward pregnant women who are incarcerated and found that increased stigma
was related to lower intentions to provide the standard of care to these women. Previous research
on how the public feels about people who are incarcerated and the conditions they live in can
help inform how the public may view pregnant individuals who are incarcerated and policies that
Clark et al. 485

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