Tag Archives: reproduction

Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Bagley and Merlo

Bagley, K., & Merlo, A. V. (2006). Regulating and controlling women’s bodies. In A. V. Merlo & J. M. Pollock (Eds.), Women, law, and social control (2 ed., pp. 64-87). Boston: Pearson Allyn Bacon.

1.      Main Thesis: Bagley and Merlo argue that official control over women’s bodies—particularly during pregnancy—has increased significantly in the last decade. However, they say, this increased control has been for punitive purposes; it has not resulted in better care or programming for women, pregnant or otherwise.

2.      Body of Evidence: After outlining their argument that women’s bodies are disproportionately singled out for public/official control, the authors discuss ways in which this occurs. They highlight several cases in which pregnant women were prosecuted based on their status as pregnant. For example, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for the death of her fetus, despite the fact that there is no evidence her cocaine use killed it and despite the fact that a third-trimester abortion would have resulted in a maximum sentence of two years (p. 67-68). Clearly, the intention of such a sentence is to increase regulation and control of women, not to protect fetuses. The authors provide several other examples and introduce the idea of the slippery slope, asking, “to what standard of care should pregnant women be held? Should pregnant women stop drinking coffee, stop riding motorcycles, play doubles rather than singles tennis …?” (p. 69). The authors state that reproductive laws—including coercive contraception laws—have disproportionately targeted crack cocaine users (over other types of drug users), poor women, and women of color. Next, the authors give extended detail about how women are affected by HIV/AIDS. They discuss the gap in quality of care given to white women versus black women, who are disproportionately affected by AIDS due to a number of social causes, and the ethical issues surrounding mandatory testing of pregnant women and/or their newborns. Finally, the authors point out that rehabilitation and support services for AIDS-affected and substance-addicted pregnant women are more likely to produce social reform than continued punitive legislation.

3.      Conclusions: The authors argue that it is unfair to punish women for offenses resulting from a flawed system that women are unequipped to deal with. Rather than focus on increased control of pregnancy, they advocate the establishment of sex-abuse prevention programs (because women who have been abused are more likely to be HIV-positive and/or drug users), awareness and rehabilitation programs, and programs to help women become good mothers. The authors push for refocusing on the mother instead of focusing only on the fetus.

4.      My Conclusions: I enjoyed this chapter’s focus on legal precedent as reflective of social beliefs about control of pregnancy. This topic relates to my research, in which I’ve discovered that some states have tried to pass coercive legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; I suspect that this law, like those Bagley and Merlo discuss, will disproportionately affect particular populations. My one trifle with this chapter is that I think it does not discuss enough the agency that women do have. That is, while I believe that our flawed cultural/social/legal system produces much of the “crime” described herein, I also think that we must recognize women’s ability to make and take responsibility for their choices.


Women in Criminal Justice Article Review: Carlson

Carlson Jr., J.R. (2009). Prison nurseries: A pathway to crime-free futures. Corrections Compendium, 34(1), 17-24.

1.      Main Thesis: Carlson details the recent history of prison nursery programs across 10 states. He points out the growing need to consider the situations of incarcerated mothers. Based on recidivism rates, positive media attention, community good, the potential to break the cycle of generational incarceration, and low relative cost, this article shows that prison nursery programs are in the best interest of all involved.

2.      Body of Evidence: Carlson reviews literature surrounding prison nursery programs and points out that more research is needed in this area. For example, he says that “The most recent and only study on the level of attachment between mothers and babies while in prison was completed in the New York prison nursery system” (17)(emphasis mine). Based on the work of other criminology scholars, Carlson argues that children in prison nursery programs may even have advantages over “low-risk community children whose mothers had no criminal history” (17). Carlson also gives time to arguments against nursery programs, and he counters them by shifting the focus away from the prisoner and back to the well-being of the child. Next, Carlson gives a brief review of each of the 10 nursery programs underway in 2008 by state: New York, Nebraska, Washington, Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. Most importantly, he focuses on recidivism rates for participants in each of these programs and establishes a strong pattern showing that participation in nursery programs significantly reduces mothers’ tendency to return to prison. Finally, Carlson details a specific study undertaken at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women at York. Using historical data provided by NCCW staff, he shows improvement in recidivism trends, decreases in misconduct reports, and inmate satisfaction associated the prison nursery program. He uses this detailed description to demonstrate the relatively low financial cost and significant social gain associated with prison nursery programs.

3.      Conclusions: Carlson found that inmates “overwhelmingly” supported the Nebraska nursery program, that the NCCW staff supported it, and that media attention was positive (22). In addition, Carlson found “a demonstrated lower recidivism rate of 16.8 percent for women who successfully went through the nursery program, compared with 50 percent for the previous population of women who were forced to give up their babies” (22). He reports that these findings are representative of other states as well, and concludes that it is in the best interest of all involved to implement and extend prison nursery programs.

4.      My Conclusions: It surprised me that only 10 states have prison nursery programs, and I wanted Carlson to focus on the international context in order to show that the U.S. is not very progressive in this area. I also found myself wishing that he would have foregrounded the financial justification for his conclusion more; it seems that those people who oppose prison nurseries based on their cost might be persuaded to support them if faced with the costs associated with repeat offenders. However, I also recognize that Carlson’s audience is other criminologists. He is not seeking to persuade naysayers (although his attention to counter-arguments on page 17 indicates that he at least thought about this); he is seeking to provide an empirical study and its implications to the criminal justice community. With this in mind, I think this article was well written, succinct, and complete. I certainly learned a lot from it!

In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Woods, Clyde. (2010). In the wake of hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and social visions. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

As I delve more into reading on risk communication, I’m finding that much of the recent work in the field touches on—or focuses on—Hurricane Katrina and the man-made parts of that disaster. This text, in fact, argues that all of Katrina was man-made, from the global warming that caused the storm to be so strong to the institutionalized poverty in the New Orleans region to the devastatingly slow government response. Specifically, this text devotes sections to “Histories of Race, Gender, Sex, and Class,” “Activists and Institutions,” “Culture, Music, and Performance,” “Tourism Industrial Complex,” and “Geographies of Disaster.” Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces in the text comes in the second section and takes the form of an interview entitled: “The Politics of Reproductive Violence.”

In this interview, activist Shana Griffin talks about “the ways in which interlocking policies, institution and systems of oppression operate to control and dominate Black women’s bodies, reproduction, sexuality and motherhood” (p. 158). Griffin is talking mostly about regulatory policies dealing with low-income women, who, in post-Katrina New Orleans, are predominantly Black. Griffin points to policies that “criminalize our ability reproduce, criminalize us for having sex and for being mothers” (p. 159). She is not talking about government aid being withheld, which is an even more controversial issue. Rather, Griffin points to instances of government aid being provided—but only at a cost. She gives the example of David Duke’s legislation to pay women receiving public assistance $100 per month if they would agree to be sterilized (p. 160). Griffin charges that women agree to this not because they want to be sterilized, but because they need the money. This plan is “designed to exploit low-income women’s economic vulnerability” (p. 161). Griffin also gives a separate personal example of how she was told that her income of $392 per month for disaster unemployment disqualified her from received Medicaid. The cut-off for Medicaid in post-Katrina New Orleans was $138 per month for a single woman with one dependent (p. 162).

Several chapters in this book also are concerned with the government’s policies on low-income housing. It was widely documented that legislative leaders used Katrina as an opportunity to destroy low-income housing that had previously occupied areas deemed desirable. This sort of urban planning not only left desperate families without lodging for critical weeks, but its result is a segregated cityscape. Every author in this book was critical of these types of policies, with some pointing to the effects on tourism, which is arguably New Orlean’s most productive and most exploitative industry.

Overall, this text provides a detailed look into the regulatory and social complexities of post-Katrina New Orleans. More work needs to be done in this area … which I’ll get to in a future post!

Towards a sexual ethics of rights and responsibilities

Article from Reproductive Health Matters Volume 17.33 pages 111-119. Click the link below to view this fascinating abstract …