The Family Research Council's report Wednesday commemorating 40 years of crisis pregnancy centers inadvertently confirms a dirty little secret of public health: $200 million per year is being spent on reproductive health care provided by amateurs.
Wendy Norris, a Denver-based freelance reporter, is a regular contributing writer working on special assignment to Rewire.
The Family Research Council’s report Wednesday commemorating 40 years of crisis pregnancy centers inadvertently confirms a dirty
little secret of public health: $200 million per year is being spent on
reproductive health care provided by amateurs.
Between the soothing tones of lavender pages and key words
punctuated in a lovely stylized script, the FRC and four partner anti-choice
groups claim that among the 2,300 nationwide anti-choice centers affiliated
with its tight-knit conservative religious network, the average clinic sees
300-350 women annually— or less than one woman per day.
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Crisis pregnancy centers were founded in the pre-Roe v Wade 1960s to dissuade women from
seeking abortions by giving them blatantly false information and relying on
scare tactics about cancer risks and infertility. In recent years, the centers
expanded their services as the Bush Administration’s faith-based federal grant
program grew and restrictions decreased on Medicaid provider reimbursement
Factoring in the centers’ latest lucrative cottage industry,
federally-supported abstinence-only education programs, the FRC notes its
networked "pregnancy resource centers reach some 1.9 million people each
And it’s here where a little back-of-the-napkin math tells
the real story: the document cites a conservative estimate of $200 million in
annual taxpayer and philanthropic funding for the crisis centers aligned with
FRC, Life International, Heartbeat International, CareNet and the National
Institute of Family and Life Advocates. That equals a misplaced public health
investment of $105.26 per client to push wildly inaccurate, non-scientific and
biased information on pregnancy and contraception in schools and at facilities
staffed almost exclusively by volunteers.
The FRC cheerfully explains that it further minimizes the
public cost burden of unplanned pregnancies because "29 out of every 30
people engaged in pregnancy center work are volunteers."
In other words, people with a clear theo-political agenda
are operating ultrasound equipment and providing intimate information to women
and teenaged girls about sexuality, prenatal development and medical issues
outside the scope of public regulation or expert supervision.
This logic is especially troubling when one considers that
no other health care service is delivered under the guise of lay people without
The report also unwittingly reveals another curiosity of the
faith-based crisis pregnancy center movement — it’s lack of public credibility
as a fair broker of evidence-based health information and comprehensive care.
In an apparent tactic to portray a sense of legitimacy, the
60-odd page report contains 41 individual references to the accuracy, honesty,
trustworthiness or similarly-termed descriptions of its services. Yet, that
flowery language stands in stark contrast to decades of peer-reviewed research,
public health analysis and investigative reporting that debunk the clinics’
deceptive claims about abortion and contraception.
Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.
The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.
By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.
Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.
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“Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.
The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.
An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.
“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.
Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.
County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.
“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.
Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”
“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.
Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”
And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.
The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.
This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.
For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.
The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.
“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.
Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.
The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.
“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.
And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.
The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.
In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”
Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.
Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.
James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.
These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”
“This is the first time that a federal agency issued a sweeping—and long overdue—rebuke to the private prison industry. It is time to take a hard look at the outsized role of incarceration in American society, which has shattered lives and communities across the country,” said Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yesterday that it will end its use of for-profit prisons.
The department cited a decline in the prison population and private prisons’ failure to maintain the same level of safety and security as the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
BOP will amend solicitation for prison contracts of 10,800 beds to no more than 3,600 beds. By May 2017, the total BOP private prison population will be less than 14,200, a 50 percent reduction from its high in 2013 of 220,000. All of the Bureau’s contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination.
The DOJ is recommending the BOP work to reduce and eliminate more private prison facilities as contracts come up for renewal over the next five years.
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In a 2013 ACLU lawsuit against privately-run East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF), for example, the ACLU described the prison as “an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions and their basic human rights are violated daily.”
The DOJ’s Thursday announcement will not affect immigrant detention centers run by ICE and contracted to private prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), both of which have long histories of human rights abuses in their detention centers, including dozens of cases of in-custody deaths.
It remains unknown if ICE will continue to contract with private prison companies. Most privately-operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons, which hold noncitizens who have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border, according to a press release from Grassroots Leadership.
“This announcement will likely mark the end of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens, though it remains to be seen how the BOP will carry out this change,” the organization said in its statement.
Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network, a coalition challenging the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system, said in a statement that the DOJ’s announcement is “a major turning point” in the struggle against mass incarceration.
“This is the first time that a federal agency issued a sweeping—and long overdue—rebuke to the private prison industry. It is time to take a hard look at the outsized role of incarceration in American society, which has shattered lives and communities across the country,” Shah said. “With this news, we call on the Department of Homeland Security to follow suit and break their ties with private prison companies that operate more than half of ICE immigrant detention facilities as a step towards ending detention completely.”
“These two charges account for half of all federal prosecutions although they are merely status offenses for crossing the border without proper documentation, and do not fall under DOJ priorities,” Grassroots Leadership reported.
“This decision will take the profit motive out of the BOP’s incarceration of non-citizens prosecuted for crossing the border,” Bethany Carson, researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said in a press release. “We hope that this decision will be a stepping stone for the DOJ to end the use of segregated prisons for non-citizens and de-prioritize improper entry and re-entry prosecutions.”
Policy center In The Public Interest (ITPI) reported in February that private prison companies “collect thousands of tax dollars in profit for every incarcerated person in their facilities.”
CCA, the country’s largest private prison operator, made $3,356 in profit per prisoner in 2015. GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator, made $2,135 in profit per prisoner. ITPI has found that private prison companies encouraged mass incarceration by owning and marketing facilities.
“If our criminal justice system stopped sending people to private jails and prisons, these tax dollars could be spent on programs that prevent incarceration and support prisoner rehabilitation,” ITPI reported.
Private prison companies were already taking a sizable financial hit in the hours after the DOJ’s announcement. MarketWatch reported that “shares of for-profit prison operators plummeted.” CCA’s shares dropped 35 percent and GEO Group’s fell 40 percent.
A report last year revealed that private prisons increased their share of the immigrant detention industry after the detention bed quota was implemented, guaranteeing 34,000 immigrants are detained each day. Grassroots Leadership reports that private prison corporations now operate two-thirds of ICE detention centers, with CCA and GEO operating nine out of ten of the largest detention centers.
“This [the DOJ announcement] is a major victory for those of us who have fought for years to expose the innumerable abuses and indignities in our Criminal Alien Requirement prisons and we’re overjoyed the Department of Justice has finally listened, however belatedly,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a press release about the DOJ’s announcement. “Lives have been lost to this broken system. Good riddance.”