What Is a Prison Doula?

Published: May 31, 2024 | Revised: Jun 13, 2024
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Female hands holding prison bars

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The Prison Doula is typically a Birth Doula, Full-Spectrum Doula, or Community-Based Doula who provides emotional and practical pregnancy and parenting support for incarcerated (i.e. imprisoned) people.

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The support offered includes creating a safe space, providing physical and emotional comfort, giving massages, supplying information, conversation, verbal encouragement and empowerment, advocacy, helping women in labor with pain management, helping the new mother to bond with her baby, or assist her with breastfeeding if she chooses so, but also nurturing healthy parent-child relationships, while increasing parenting confidence and skills.

Although the Prison Doula primarily works with incarcerated women who are pregnant or are already a parent, support may also extent to the family of the incarcerated women, or to an incarcerated partner who may likewise be a parent.

At any rate, as the number of imprisoned women continues to surge it has become an increasingly important professional activity for Doulas.

The added challenge for Prison Doulas is that they need to carefully navigate between the (criminal) justice system, the carceral system (i.e. penitentiary or prison system), and the (future) parent, which asks for informed diplomatic competencies.

Specific goals in this respect are to create as much opportunities as possible for contact and bonding between mothers, their baby (or other children) and their families, and the ability to supply effective re-entry resources through education and mentorship.

In fact, the more structural, long-term goals of Prison Doulas are to help changing the justice and carceral system so that women not need to give birth in prison. Moreover, they generally advocate that pregnant people should not be incarcerated at all.

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