Carceral Delivery Rooms: The Disparate Policing of Drug Use and Pregnant Women’s Bodies; Lessons (Un)Learned from the 1980’s Crack Epidemic to the Current Opiate Epidemic

Authors: Michael Henderson*, Temple University, PA, Selina Davis, Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Medical and Health Geography, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: Intersectionality, Drugs, Policing, Carceral Spaces, Safe Spaces, Critical Geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Some of the more perverse aspects of the United States’ “War on Drugs,” are the ways in which this so-called “war” promotes unfettered and intrusive policing, and, in so doing, transforms otherwise “safe spaces” into “carceral spaces.” In this context, neither hospitals, generally, nor delivery rooms, specifically, are beyond the impositions of law enforcement; a fact not lost on the myriad pregnant women of color arrested during the 1980’s “Crack Epidemic.” Instead of treatment for their drug abuse or addiction, these women were too often imprisoned and forcibly separated from their children. Scholarship describing the complex intersectionalities of place, race, sex, class, gender, and socioeconomics, is crucial to spatially understanding how and why women (particularly Black women) were unable to avail themselves of assumed “safe spaces,” (i.e. the hospital or delivery room), where one might expect that patient confidentiality and doctor-patient privilege would afford these mothers (and/or mothers-to-be) protections from legal jeopardy. Interestingly, while opiates also pose a substantial, if not worse, risk of harm to developing fetuses than does cocaine, missing from the current Opiate Epidemic are the numerous reports of incarcerated drug-using mothers, though we know this phenomenon is occurring during the current Opiate Epidemic. This paper explores the disparate policing of drug use in pregnant women during the Crack Epidemic, as compared to the current Opiate Epidemic. This paper relies on intersectional and critical geographic epistemologies to argue against normative policing of women’s bodies, while arguing for increased support and a return of “safe space.”

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