IDS is sharing this information from Megan Williams, MSPH, MSW, Research Associate at the UNC Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health to assist counsel representing clients who may be pregnant.
The number of incarcerated women has risen dramatically across North Carolina in the past few decades, and about 5-7% of incarcerated women are pregnant. Incarcerated women have an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy, high-risk pregnancies, lack of prenatal care, mental health conditions, drug and alcohol dependence, poor nutrition, domestic violence, and trauma.* Due to these and other factors, they have increased likelihood of adverse birth outcomes. Jails and prisons are usually not equipped to provide the recommended level of prenatal care for this high-risk population.
In December 2021, North Carolina enacted a new law, the Dignity for Women who are Incarcerated Act, to provide basic protections for female incarcerated persons with an emphasis on pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. Here is a printed summary and a 30-second video summary of the law, to be freely used and distributed.
Please report any Dignity Act violations to the NC Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR) complaint Hotline: 1-800-624-3004 (within N.C.) or 919-855-4500, or through this link:https://info.ncdhhs.gov/dhsr/ciu/filecomplaint.html. You may also contact Chris Wood, Chief Jail Inspector: Chris.Wood@dhhs.nc.gov /Phone: 919-855-3893
The Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health (CMIH) team at UNC Chapel Hill has created free resources and training on the Dignity Act, including general health information that may be of interest to attorneys working with justice-involved pregnant or postpartum people. These resources include additional information about the increased risk incarceration brings to a pregnancy and information about alternatives to incarceration. You can access these resources at IncarceratedWomensHealth.org
Please reach out to Megan_Williams@med.unc.edu with questions, training requests, or for more information about the Dignity Act or pregnancy and incarceration. We look forward to Megan’s presentation at the Public Defender Conference in 2024!
*Dumont DM, Wildeman C, Lee H, et al: Incarceration, maternal hardship, and perinatal health behaviors. Matern Child Health J 18:2179–87, 2014