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    Substance Abuse and Incarcerated Women

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    The use of illicit drugs has played a dangerous role in the lives of pregnant women suffering from addiction (Berk, Laura E. Child Development. Pearson Education, 2013).

    The number of pregnant women in prison has increased to about 4% in the U.S. because of substance-abuse (Shlafer, R., & Laurel Davis 2018, September 12). The use of drugs, especially while pregnant, can be looked down upon by the justice system and has created a controversy between decision making for both the mother and the fetus. Although there is a debate between whether women should be incarcerated due to drug-abuse while pregnant, incarceration could lead to a worse experience for the woman’s health and the infant. Drug treatments and reproductive health services in prison, if available at all, are not deemed acceptable quality, because pregnancy among women prisoners has continued to show higher rates of morbidity and perinatal mortality rates (Siefert, Kristine, Pimlott, & Sheryl. 2001, April 1).

    Many women suffering addiction, whether incarcerated or not, are undeniably struggling to reach out due to policies. Harsh policies will only inflict fear in women, causing them to refrain to reach out for help. Policies repress the proper prenatal care women and the fetus need, because there aren’t federal standards for the care women need to receive. Because services in prison varies across states, it makes it difficult for some women to receive any health service at all (Shlafer, R., & Laurel Davis. 2018, September 12). The health care that may present itself in prison for these women will not consider the specific issues related to pregnancy and during the postpartum period, making things overwhelming. (Women’s Health Care Physicians 2011, November).

    Though not all states have proper laws criminalizing substance abuse during pregnancy, most of the time women are prosecuted instead of being given the opportunity of help and proper resources that could potentially stabilize the pregnancy journey and after birth care for the infant. (Jessup, M. 2019, June 3). Tennessee, in 2014, become the first state to pass a law successfully which criminalized the use of drugs during a woman’s pregnancy. Tennessee’s Fetal Homicide Law granted that any child born addicted to an illicit substance or with health risks due to mother’s substance abuse, would result in woman being charged with assault. Reason being why women are to be prosecuted is to protect the fetus and infant after birth. (McGee, M., 2018, December. Tennessee Fetal Assault Law (SB 1391). However, a residential program study that focused on approaches to treat pregnant substance-dependent women resulted in the increase of mental health. The program included therapy and practice in social functioning; the study concluded that after these women were released from prison, they showed high rates of a depressive disorder (Kubiak, P. S.,2004, June). A probable cause for women to become depressed is due to the demeaning way they are treated in prison. Prison life could be degrading and dehumanizing, stripping away autonomy from pregnant women. For instance, the shackling of women during labor rises fear, stress, and anxiety in women affecting fetal health, leading to preterm labor. Preterm labor faces its own health risks and won’t guarantee the survival of the infant, and some laws do not pay attention to those factors and other teratogens, such as heredity and age that also lead to health risks (Berk, Laura E. Child Development. Pearson Education 2013).

    Substance-abusing women that properly receive prenatal care have a greater chance at a positive birth outcome than women who avoid any care. This demonstrates that harsh policies will not necessarily encourage the protection of fetal health, but rather deter women to seek help and increase the number of mental health problems health risks infants can face. Therefore, arresting and prosecuting pregnant women will not have a significant effect on decreasing the hazardous health risks infants can face. (Shlafer, R., & Laurel Davis. 2018, September 12).

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    Substance Abuse and Incarcerated Women. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/substance-abuse-and-incarcerated-women-176573/

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