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Ocen, Priscilla A. “Punishing Pregnancy: Race, Incarceration, and the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners.” California Law Review 100, no. 5 (October 2012): 1239–1311.


In Punishing Pregnancy, Ocen uses race, gender, and historical lenses to explain that modern prison practices, such as shackling of pregnant women, are shaped by stereotypes of black women as deviant, dangerous, and sexually available that date back to slavery. She asserts that these stereotypes of black women have served to shape and form punitive practices in women’s prisons against women of all races. Ocen ties a timeline of reproductive oppression in the prison context to racial oppression in a historic context. She contends that as a result of the racial stereotypes formulated and perpetuated throughout American history, the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” is insufficient. Ocen explains that the Eighth Amendment does not adequately address the racial and gender dynamics that structure prison practices. Furthermore, the Eighth Amendment places focus on the individual (i.e. prion guard) rather than the systematic practices in general, which leads to temporary relief from but not prohibition of such practices. Ocen offers a broader reading of the Eighth Amendment, incorporating elements of the Thirteenth amendment to produce an “antisubordination approach,” in which “the conditions of confinement that result from or are related to repudiated mechanisms of racial domination should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment” (1). Under this reading, Ocen maintains that the shackling of pregnant women in prison should be prohibited outright. Ocen offers an interesting analysis of the intersection of race, gender, and history in very deliberate and linear writing. The article is recommended for anyone interested in prison practices that harm pregnant people and the ways in which those practices have evolved from historical stereotypes of black women. It is very dense, but the abstract provides a useful brief synopsis of the author’s analysis.


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Legislation/policy   Government regulation   Legal case   Race/ethnicity: African American/Black   Intersectionality   Criminal justice/incarceration   Pregnancy   History