Pregnancy and childbirth in English prisons: institutional ignominy and the pains of imprisonment

Laura Abbott, Hilary Thomas, Patricia Scott, Kathy Weston

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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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 among women prisoners is under‐researched. This article reports an ethnographic study in three English prisons undertaken in 2015‐2016, including interviews with 22 prisoners, six 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 article 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.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberSHIL13052
Pages (from-to)660-675
Number of pages16
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2020


  • pregnancy
  • institutions
  • Goffman
  • childbirth
  • prisons


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