Mark Allen Johnson

Photography Portfolio-: Pregnant In Prison

With nearly four thousand inmates, Valley State Prison (VSP), located in Chowchilla, California is the world's largest prison for women. At any given time, approximately 120 are pregnant on average each month. With over 340 babies born annually to female prisoners in VSP, only a handful of these children are able to avoid separation from their mothers. The State of California operates three mother-infant prisoner programs that allow those who qualify to live in a low level prison setting with their newborn if the duration of their sentence is less than six years. With as few as 75 beds in the program, prisoners are forced to give up their babies for adoption or foster care, or, in some cases, they give parental custody to friends or relatives. Since the majority of inmates come from poor backgrounds where friends and family members have also been incarcerated or involved in criminal activity, their children might be raised in the same environment as their lawbreaking parents.

Unlike prisons for men, the VSP does not segregate their female inmates by level of crime committed, ultimately creating a dangerous atmosphere for the convicts. All levels of criminals--from petty thieves to murderers--are mixed together, including the inmates who are pregnant.

"At VSP you cannot show emotion, you cannot make friends easily, and you can never trust anyone. Being pregnant does not give you better treatment," a pregnant inmate complains. A common verbal threat towards pregnant inmates might be, "Your face isn't pregnant, bitch, so I can punch you there!"

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