“I Wish I Could Hold Your Hand”: Inconsistent Interactions Between Pregnant Women and Prison Officers

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Much of the literature on pregnant women who are incarcerated focuses on perinatal outcomes for infants, access to and quality of medical care, mental health concerns, prison nurseries, and shackling. This research adds a unique contribution by exploring women's interactions with prison officers during pregnancy, labor, and birth. Based on in-depth interviews with 18 pregnant or postpartum women incarcerated at a maximum-security state prison, the findings suggest inconsistent interactions between women and prison officers. Officers served as gatekeepers and/or advocates. Women reported dehumanizing behaviors, yet they also experienced compassion, especially in the delivery room, though limited by prison regulations. The findings have implications for training in trauma-informed care, clear expectations for prison officers, and consideration of doula programs.