Patterns of care and outcomes for pregnant inmates and their infants in Texas state prisons: Epidemiologic and ethnographic analyses

Chun Hsin Lin, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Female inmates make up the fastest growing segment in our criminal justice system today. The rapidly increasing trend for female prisoners calls for enhanced efforts to strategically plan the correctional facilities that address the needs of this growing population, and to work with communities to prevent crime in women. The incarcerated women in the U.S. have an estimated 145,000 minor children who are predisposed to unique psychosocial problems as a result of parental incarceration. This study examined the patterns of care and outcomes for pregnant inmates and their infants in Texas state prisons between 1994 and 1996. The study population consists of 202 pregnant inmates who delivered in a 2-year period, and a randomly sampled comparison cohort of 804 women from general Texas population, matched on race and educational levels. Both quantitative and qualitative data were used to elucidate the inmates' risk-factor profile, delivery/birth outcomes, and the patterns of care during pregnancy. The continuity-of-care issues for this population were also explored. Epidemiologic data were derived from multiple record systems to establish the comparison between two cohorts. A significantly great proportion of the inmates have prior lifestyle risk-factors (smoking, alcohol, and illicit drug abuse), poorer health status, and worse medical history. However, most of these existing risk-factors seem to show little manifestation in their current pregnancy. On the basis of maternal labor/delivery outcome and a number of neonatal indicators, this study found some evidence of a better pregnancy outcome for the inmate cohort when compared to the comparison group. Some possible explanations of this paradox were discussed. Seventeen percent of inmates gave birth to infants with suspected congenital syphilis. The placement patterns for the infants' care immediately after birth were elucidated. In addition to the quantitative data, an ethnographic approach was used to collect qualitative data from a subset of the inmate cohort (n = 20) and 12 care providers. The qualitative data were analyzed for their contents and themes, giving rise to a detailed description of the inmates' pregnancy experience. Eleven themes emerged from the study's thematic analysis, which provides the context for interpreting the epidemiologic data. Meaningful findings in this study were presented in a three-dimensional matrix to shed light on the apparent relationship between outcome indicators and their potential determinants. The suspected "linkages" between the outcome and their determinants can be used to generate hypotheses for future studies.

Subject Area

Public health|Obstetrics|Gynecology|Welfare|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Lin, Chun Hsin, "Patterns of care and outcomes for pregnant inmates and their infants in Texas state prisons: Epidemiologic and ethnographic analyses" (1997). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9809602.