Consortium for Gender Responsive Prisoner Healthcare


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team photo: Consortium for Gender Responsive Prisoner Healthcare
team photo: Consortium for Gender Responsive Prisoner Healthcare

About the Consortium

Director: Emily Sluiter
Associate Director:  Jacqueline Williams

The intersections of gender and incarceration manifest in several complicated- and frequently dangerous- ways. The Consortium for Gender-Responsive Prisoner Healthcare aims to gather the often-siloed efforts of academics, formerly incarcerated people, healthcare professionals, prisoner advocates, victims and their families, Department of Corrections officials, and public health directors to provide gender-responsive, trauma-informed care for people incarcerated. This includes providing comprehensive, evidence-based care for women, birthing people, individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, domestic violence survivors, and others experiencing ongoing trauma inside prison as result of their gender or gender identity.

The development of this new consortium is firmly rooted in the belief that trauma and gender violence perpetuate and reinforce incarceration. By reducing institutional violence and creating supportive networks of care, we aim to develop a humane, gender-informed model of criminal justice to solve urgent and dangerous gaps of the current healthcare and carceral system. We strive to create a sustainable model of restorative justice with alternatives to incarceration at the center of its core.

The tangible goals of this initiative are: discussion panels and informed conversations between experts in each field, development of standards of care, best practices, and gender-responsive training curriculums for healthcare providers in and out of prison, new opportunities for short and long-term outcomes research, financial support for trauma-informed initiatives (such as the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative), the publication of a manual to outline an evidence based-approach to gender-responsive prisoner healthcare, and, more broadly, increased visibility of the status of care for currently incarcerated people.

It is the overarching mission of this consortium to improve the lives of individuals and families who have experienced incarceration, and create stronger communities which offer trauma-responsive care, training, and support. Through these collaborative efforts, we aim to address both immediate and systematic issues that manifest throughout the current carceral state.

Research Projects

Pregnancy and postpartum support programs for women in prison (National Institutes of Health, R01)

IRWG’s Consortium for Gender Responsive Prisoner Healthcare is part of a five-year project funded by the National Institutes of Health. This multi-site collaboration seeks to understand how providing incarcerated pregnant women with enhanced pregnancy and postpartum care may improve maternal and neonatal outcomes. Driven by mandatory minimum sentencing, the criminalization of substance use disorder, the meth and opioid epidemic, and the lack of domestic violence shelters, affordable housing, and accessible mental health services, the rate at which women are incarcerated has increased over 600% over the last 30 years. Most of these women are of reproductive age, and an estimated 1 in 25 women will enter the prison system while pregnant. The R01 project, “Pregnancy and postpartum support programs for women in prison: Maternal and neonatal outcomes," is a multi-site implementation study of enhanced pregnancy and postpartum support programs for women incarcerated in six geographically-diverse prisons in the U.S. The long-term goal is to provide valuable, practical, and actionable information to prisons about how to implement pregnancy and postpartum support programs to promote maternal and neonatal health.

In collaboration with principal investigator Rebecca Shlafer, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota, co-investigator Carolyn Sufrin, MD, PhD, Director of Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People at Johns Hopkins University, as well as other interdisciplinary experts in the field, Consortium director Emily Sluiter will work in coordination the Michigan Department of Corrections and Michigan Prison Doula Initiative (MPDI) and serve as a Co-Investigator/Site Coordinator at the University of Michigan. IRWG Director Anna Kirkland serves as the sponsor PI.

At each site, researchers will identify barriers and opportunities to implementing pregnancy and postpartum support programs for women in prison and evaluate pregnancy, birth and postpartum outcomes of program participants. As a previous doula and co-founder of the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative, Emily will use her prior experience of serving the women inside and working with stakeholders to use this work to identify and solve further gaps in pregnancy-related care.

“To every woman I’ve served inside, I’ve made a promise to keep pressing onward so that no one has to experience what it is like to give birth while incarcerated," said Sluiter. "These women are part of our community, which is an especially true reality for me coming from a small town where it is common to experience incarceration. It is our job to ensure that every pregnant person is given the right to a humane childbirth experience, and I hope this serves as a steppingstone to realize a clear path forward to end the practice of incarcerating pregnant people.”