Pregnancy in Prison – Past and Present

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Rachel Bennett explores maternity care in the early days of female-only prisons.

Following one of her early visits to Newgate prison, Elizabeth Fry noted that “nearly three hundred women with their numerous children, were crowded [in the cells of the prison]; tried and untried, without classification, without employment, and with no other superintendence than that given by a man and his son, who had charge of them day and night.”[1] Mrs Fry would go on to help establish the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate and, later, the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. She also gave evidence to the 1818 House of Commons Committee on prison conditions. Among other things, during her work she advocated for the more tailored treatment of female prisoners based upon tenderness and religious instruction and argued that this more feminine approach needed to be delivered by female prison attendants.

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New Project Website: Prisoner Health

‘Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’ undertakes research into topics that resonate with current concerns in the prison service, including the very high incidence of mental health problems amongst prisoners, the health of women and maternity services in prison, and responses to addiction and HIV/AIDS. All the different strands of research will straddle the period from the start of the modern prison system in the mid-nineteenth century up to the current day, and compare the provision of medical services and notions of the entitlement of prisoners to health in both England and Ireland.

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