The Right to Healthcare Doesn’t Stop in Prison

Diana Sanchez is an incarcerated mother who gave birth in her jail cell. Despite notifying guards and medical staff eight to nine times of her contractions and bleeding, she received no medical assistance, giving birth alone on a bench with only an absorbent pad given to her five hours into contractions. 

Diana is suing the city of Denver but this incidence of women’s healthcare rights being violated in prisons is not unprecedented. Only 54% of pregnant women who are incarcerated receive prenatal care. Along with inadequate access to reproductive care, gynecological exams are not provided when admitted into prisons, nor offered or provided routinely throughout a sentence.

Although steps have been made to improve the quality of healthcare in women’s prisons, with both state and federal legislation providing an increase in access to feminine hygiene products, the violation of women’s right to healthcare in prisons adequate healthcare is a symptom of the role prisons play in the united states. 

courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr

One of the purposes prisons are said to serve is rehabilitation, but prison healthcare conditions along with recidivism rates suggest otherwise. The low wage labor that inmates provide is exploitative in nature, and display a motivation for prisons rooted in driving up profit rather than public good.

 Taking advantage of incarcerated individuals in nothing new in the United States. The thirteenth amendment states that slavery or involuntary servitude is abolished, except as punishment for a crime. The thirteenth amendment loophole is the backbone for a prison system in a country that was built on slave labor, so it’s no wonder the issue of human rights is not a primary concern. 

Convict leasing of children in 1903, image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Incarceration is used as a tool of oppression in the United States. As much of a stigma as incarcerated individuals are given, legality does not equate to morality, which is seen both historically in the United States as well as today. It is easy to say that someone put in the prison system deserves this punishment they are given when people are conditioned to view incarcerated individuals as almost subhuman, but often times those in prisons are victims of a system designed to make them fail. 

The population of these prisons in America consist of real people, and the denial of healthcare is a denial of a fundamental human right. This fundamental human right does not end when someone is convicted of a crime, wearing an orange jumpsuit does not make someone less of a woman. Diana Sanchez is not less of a woman, and no woman deserves to deliver a baby alone in a jail cell. 

Reform to ensure better access to healthcare services can continue in the United States, and can even help mitigate the risk of incidents like the one Diana experienced, but this reform will still only treat the symptoms of a larger problem. As long as the United States keeps a prison system that is motivated by profit, the welfare of inmates, and in turn womens’ healthcare will not be prioritized. The United States needs a criminal reform system that is instead motivated by public welfare, only then will these women have access to the healthcare that is rightfully theirs. 


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