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Authors

Brenda V. Smith

Abstract

From 1988 to 1998, I directed a legal and educational program for women prisoners incarcerated at the Minimum Security Annex by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. In that role, I taught a curriculum that included issues the women identified as priorities: housing, drug treatment, child custody, employment, and health. I also did legal intake and helped women inmates resolve problems they were having obtaining services from their lawyers, the courts, social service agencies, and the prison. In 1992, the composition of the cases I was receiving in the legal program changed. Increasingly, I was providing legal assistance to address the problems women faced because they had conceived while incarcerated. The many challenges these women faced when they conceived in prison, and my often unsuccessful attempts to assist them in hiding, terminating, or managing their pregnancies, forced me to examine how they had become pregnant in a system that specifically prohibits any sexual activity by prisoners. While there are serious consequences for sex with male inmates, including possible loss of good time credits or denial of parole for becoming pregnant while incarcerated, female inmates were much more concerned with identifying prison staff as the fathers of their children because they feared retaliation and violence from other inmates and staff. Not surprisingly, the action or inaction of the institution and its staff bore the primary responsibility for inmate pregnancy. Female inmates

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