The Prison Birth Project (PBP) is a reproductive justice organization providing support, education, advocacy, and activism training to women at the intersection of the criminal justice system and motherhood. In prison, 4-7% of women are pregnant, the same percentage as in the wider population; 85% are mothers, and 25% were pregnant upon arrest or gave birth in the previous year.
When The Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) opened in Chicopee in 2008, Lisa Andrews and Marianne Bullock were new mothers active in the reproductive justice movement. Both had personal experiences of the criminal justice system and understood that incarcerated women are not offered the reproductive options and support available to women on the outside. This challenge is compounded by social, economic, and political oppression. Lisa and Marianne co-founded PBP to go beyond support by training marginalized women to organize and become leaders in the reproductive justice movement.
Since 2008, organizational meetings have evolved from front-yard get-togethers to strategic planning meetings with fellow reproductive justice organizers. Nearly all PBP staff have experience with incarceration or feeder issues personally or through loved ones. Women in our programs receive doula support, personal advocacy, and education in childbirth, nursing, undoing oppression, and organizing methods. Members attend conferences and organize for legislative change. In 2011, we transitioned from co-directors to a collective model called PBP’s Leadership Circle.
The Leadership Circle (LC), the new decision-making body of PBP, was formalized in spring 2011 as the center of visioning, logistics, and management of all organizational “spheres”. Each “sphere” manages an aspect of the organization (i.e. Administration, The Doula Project, etc.). Sphere members make decisions by consensus and at least one is a voting member of the LC. To plan our future, we repeat the same visioning process with staff and with women in our programs, and incorporate ideas from both into our strategic plan. Our next steps will be to create a committee of currently incarcerated leaders, and to mentor released MAU and TDP women to take LC positions. We will also expand to address the needs of transgendered parents.
Some of our recent major accomplishments are listed below.
• Mothers Among Us (MAU) – 72 women participated in 2009-2011.
• The Doula Project – 20 pregnant women were seen for weekly childbirth classes during fiscal year 2011. PBP doulas supported 9 mothers, 8 of whom were in recovery and 3 of whom were part of the Fresh Start program and at risk of losing custody.
•Advocacy – We provided personal advocacy for 10 women in fiscal year 2011.
•Legislation and Policy – In 2011, PBP successfully lobbied against mandatory minimums for prostitution and daily fees for prison stays. We also revised anti-shackling bill HB2234 with feedback from incarcerated women, especially women who were currently pregnant or had experienced labor while incarcerated and shackled. We collected 500 signatures and sent a member to testify in support at a Boston hearing.
•Educating the Community – PBP members have given presentations at the 4th Academic and Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Conference, Hampshire College, Smith College, Greenfield Community College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass Amherst. We also participated in The New Leadership Networking Initiative Meeting of national and international reproductive justice leaders, The 8th International Black Midwives and Healers Conference in Florida, and The United States Social Forum in Detroit.
•Awards – Lisa Andrews & Marianne Bullock were inducted into the Our Bodies, Our Selves Hall of Fame for their work in founding The Prison Birth Project. PBP also won The Valley Advocate Newspaper’s Halo Award in 2010.