Giving dignity to mothers behind bars

The births of my children and grandchildren are among the most beautiful and precious gifts life has given me. So I was horrified to learn that when pregnancy and childbirth occur in US prisons, the experience is something tantamount to torture. Our friends at #CUT50 have launched the Dignity for Incarcerated Women campaign to change that.

The stories and facts they’ve unearthed are shocking:

  • The majority of women in prison are survivors of sexual assault. Yet, male guards can strip search women and supervise them in bathrooms. Several states are dealing with major scandals, including sexual abuse of inmates by guards.
  • Pregnancy behind bars can be a nightmare. In some places, women are forced into solitary confinement simply for being pregnant. They are often shackled and chained to their beds while giving birth. Newborn babies are taken away from their mothers within a few hours of delivery.
  • Around 80% of women in US prisons and jails are mothers. Many are sent hundreds of miles from their families, which makes visitation too difficult or costly, further breaking families up. Women are denied access to basic feminine hygiene products, having to choose between paying for tampons or calling home.

Just one person being treated this way is unconscionable, but women are the fastest growing group being incarcerated in the US, which makes these efforts to assure their dignity even more important.

Bringing dignity and humanity to the systems that are supposed to rehabilitate those who have broken the law, and keep individuals and communities safe is essential. And to do that the criminal justice system should break cycles of harm and trauma, not perpetuate them. At Virgin, we have given dozens of people who have been in prison a job - and none of them have reoffended. 

#CUT50’s Dignity campaign is supporting national and state policy changes in the US, aiming for successes in 20 states by 2020, and all led by women who are formerly incarcerated and lived through the experience themselves. In just the first few months they've succeeded in Maryland, Connecticut, and Kentucky. They have campaigns running in 10 states, and the current federal push for criminal justice reform also addresses many of the Dignity campaign's core asks.

Join us in voicing your support for the Dignity for Incarcerated Women campaign by adding your name and voice.

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