University of Hertfordshire

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Original languageEnglish
Article numberSHIL13052
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Nov 2019


With a prison population of approximately 9000 women in England, it is estimated that approximately 600 pregnancies and 100 births occur annually. Despite an extensive literature on the sociology of reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth amongst women prisoners is under-researched. This paper reports an ethnographic study in three English prisons undertaken in 2015-16, including interviews with 22 prisoners, 6 women released from prison and 10 staff members. Pregnant prisoners experience numerous additional difficulties in prison including the ambiguous status of a pregnant prisoner, physical aspects of pregnancy, and the degradation of the handcuffed or chained prisoner during visits to the more public setting of hospital. This paper draws on Erving Goffman’s concepts of closed institutions, dramaturgy and mortification of self, Crewe et al.’s work on the gendered pains of imprisonment, and Crawley’s notion of ‘institutional thoughtlessness’ and proposes a new concept of institutional ignominy to understand the embodied situation of the pregnant prisoner.

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