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Childbirth classes, doulas, lactation rooms – but is birth behind bars ever humane?

The Julia Tutwiler Prison is the only correctional facility for women in Alabama, and it has a reputation for overcrowding, understaffing and egregious inmate mistreatment. In 2014, a US Department of Justice investigation found conditions in the prison to be unconstitutional due to rampant staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse. As part of an effort at reform, in 2016 Tutwiler helped to initiate the Alabama Prison Birth Project – an endeavour to prepare its pregnant prisoners (some 45 to 50 women each year) for motherhood, and ensure that their babies are healthy and looked after. But can a system that separates newborns from their mothers just 24 hours after birth ever be humane? Constructed with care and nuance by the Academy Award-nominated US filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, this documentary traces both the promise and the moral complexities of a programme that seeks to break the intergenerational prison chain from inside.

Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Producer: Alysia Santo

Websites: Frontline, The Marshall Project

15 June 2020

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