Little reproductive justice activism focuses on the concerns of incarcerated people and, similarly, the U.S. penal system tends to ignore reproductive health issues. These oversights have serious consequences. Scholars estimate that 5-10% of women entering prison are pregnant, and others become pregnant while there. With little access to abortion while incarcerated, many of these women will become mothers. Further, 80% of women in jails and 58% of women in U.S. state and federal prisons were mothers when they were sentenced. Black women are imprisoned at 1.6 times and Latinx women at 1.3 times the rates for white women. That this fact remains true despite a 70% decline in imprisonment rates for Black women over the past 20 years speaks to the degree to which racism is interwoven with the criminal punishment system. Here, we focus specifically on shackling during birth, forced sterilization, drug testing, and immigrant detention—all of which allow us to think through a key question that historian Rickie Solinger asks: Who gets to be a legitimate mother?
As you move throughout the hole, you will choose between forced sterilization or a longer prison sentence. You will see a collection of letters sent to and from incarcerated mothers in prison. And once you enter the visitation booth, you can hear stories shared by Lily Shannon, Middlebury College ‘23, and Susan Stanfill, Lily’s mother, whose lives were impacted by Susan’s incarceration when Lily was 10 years old.