Motherhood on the inside: exploring the challenges facing incarcerated women at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women
In this thesis, I argue that the criminal justice system is deeply entrenched in racist and classist perceptions that make incarcerated women especially vulnerable to policies and ideologies that regularly involve the denial of their reproductive and parental rights. With shifting public policies and sentencing reform in reaction to the "war on drugs," women, the poor, and people of color have disproportionately become caught in the net of the criminal justice system. The subtle fusion of the war on drugs with the fetal protection movement has furthermore positioned pregnant women and mothers quite precariously within the criminal justice system, and Alabama's own chemical endangerment law provides a useful case study for exploring this topic. This thesis highlights the unique challenges facing women in correctional institutions, focusing on women's reproductive rights and claims to motherhood in particular. An elaboration of the history of Alabama's Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women helps to reveal these broader issues. In this thesis, I argue that motherhood can provide a means for incarcerated women to strategize resistance and claim agency from the space of the prison, suggesting that programs such as the Montgomery-based organization Aid to Inmate Mothers help meet the specific needs of incarcerated women that are otherwise neglected by the prison system. I use data that I collected from fifteen interviews conducted with inmate mothers at Tutwiler Prison, drawing on the experiences of these women to make an argument about the nature of incarceration for women and the potential for motherhood to be an empowering identity.