Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration recently expanded maternal and postpartum health care for incarcerated mothers through a new policy directive with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Before this, pregnant inmates were not formally guaranteed the right to form a birth plan or even have direct contact with their newborns. State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), who collaborated with Whitmer and MDOC, says this policy signals a larger movement in protecting the health care rights of the larger incarcerated population.
“A lot of the language that is in the new policy directive and in the original bill echoes this new shift in understanding the need to protect and preserve the dignity of pregnant and postpartum inmates.” –State Sen. Erika Geiss, (D-Taylor)
Listen: State Sen. Erika Geiss says Michigan’s new policy advocates for the health care of incarcerated mothers.
State Sen. Erika Geiss is a Democrat from Taylor representing Michigan’s 6th state Senate district. She was the sponsor of bills in 2020 that would have gone even farther to give more latitude to pregnant and postpartum inmates.
Geiss says practices banned under the new directive, like denying nursing mothers visitation rights to their newborns, were commonly experienced by inmates. “Even as recently as just before this policy directive was announced, there were women who are inmates who were still receiving similar treatment.”
She says this policy gives incarcerated mothers more agency in their health care decisions. “A lot of the language that is in the new policy directive and in the original bill echoes this new shift in understanding the need to protect and preserve the dignity of pregnant and postpartum inmates.” The directive grants inmates access to prenatal vitamins, direct contact with newborns, the ability to nurse and other supports. “Being able to make sure that the ability to bond with their infant and still have that contact with them is going to improve their … advanced childhood experiences (ACE) scores. When we see fewer adverse experiences, we see better outcomes,” she says.