AP - The number of women in America's state prisons has reached a record high, yet many states have inadequate policies for dealing with the large portion of them who have children or are pregnant, according to a new 50-state survey.
The report, being released Thursday by the National Women's Law Center and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, analyzes policies in three areas - prenatal care, shackling of pregnant women during childbirth, and community-based alternatives to incarceration enabling mothers to be with their children.
Only one state, Pennsylvania, received an A.
"It's shameful that so many states fail to have laws and policies to protect this vulnerable population of unseen and largely forgotten women," said Jill Morrison, a co-author of the report and senior counsel at the law center.
As a backdrop to its findings, the report noted the number of women in prison - more than 115,000 as of 2009 - has risen at a higher rate than that of men since the introduction of mandatory sentencing policies for many drug offenses. It said most of the women are nonviolent, first-time offenders, and about two-thirds have at least one child under 18.
According to the report, pregnant women entering prison often have high-risk pregnancies, yet many states lack comprehensive policies to ensure they receive essential prenatal care. The report said a majority of states do not require medical examinations as a component of prenatal care, and do not offer pregnant women screening for HIV/AIDS.
The report also said most states have failed to implement strict limits on the use of shackles or other restraints on mothers during labor and delivery. Morrison said the actual use of shackles during childbirth has likely declined in recent years, but she complained that many states lacked firm, clear-cut regulations governing the practice.
The report also urged continued expansion of community-based alternative sentencing programs, including drug-treatment programs, for women who have children and were convicted of nonviolent offenses.