Study: 90 percent of prison pregnancies end in live births

A Johns Hopkins Medicine study, thought to be the first systemic look at pregnancy in the U.S. prison system, shows no maternal deaths, though the researchers note a lack of mandatory standards for care.

By Tauren Dyson

March 22 (UPI) -- Most pregnant women in prison in the United States live to see their child after giving birth, new research shows.

About 90 percent of prison pregnancies end with live births and the mother lives through the experience, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.


"Currently, there are no mandatory standards for prenatal and pregnancy care for women in prisons," said Carolyn Sufrin, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University and study lead author, in a news release. "This study gives us insight into the actual numbers, which will help us better understand the scope of care needed by pregnant people behind bars. Having this information could also help inform policies to consider alternatives to incarceration for pregnant people."

During the course of the study, which was conducted between 2016 and 2017, nearly 1,396 women who were already pregnant were serving time in 22 state and all federal prisons. That's 57 percent of all women imprisoned in the United States.

In all, 753 of the pregnancies ended in live births, six percent of which were preterm. Also, 46 of the pregnancies ended in miscarriages, 11 were abortions, four ended in stillbirth and three newborns passed away.


According to the study, preterm births in the general population are 10 percent.

Many of the outcomes seemed to vary based on the state where women were serving time. For instance, 20 percent or more of pregnancies ended in miscarriage in prisons throughout Kansas, Vermont and Arizona.

"We can't know for sure that these numbers come from the same women who were admitted who also had pregnancies that ended in prison," Sufrin said. "They could have gotten released."

More than 110,000 women are serving time in federal and state prisons in the U.S., and 75 percent of them between ages 18 to 44, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"Our hope is for these findings to be used to advance national standards of care for imprisoned pregnant women," Sufrin said, "and to support those who advocate for policies and laws that guarantee acceptable and safe pregnancy care and childbirth, that consider alternatives to incarceration for pregnant people, uphold reproductive justice, and encourage more attention to the reproductive health needs of marginalized women and their families."

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