Pregnancy and Drinking among Women Offenders under Community Supervision in the United States: 2004–2008
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Drinking during pregnancy raises risks of pregnancy, labor, and delivery complications in mothers and lasting neurological or behavioral consequences in babies. This public health issue has recently attracted the attention of criminal justice (CJ) researchers, as the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) appears to be unusually high among offender populations. Nevertheless, in addition to becoming a main caretaker of individuals with FASDs, the CJ system already may have under its care some of the women at the highest risk of drinking during pregnancy. This study sets out to determine the prevalence, patterns, and correlates of alcohol consumption among women offenders on probation or parole in the United States. Analysis of data collected from seven waves of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2004–2008) were performed on women who were under community supervision during the year prior to the survey interview. Results revealed that 1.9% of women of child-bearing ages of 12–44 years in the general population were pregnant, as compared to 4.7% of comparable women under community supervision. Pregnant offenders were more likely to come from minority groups and be socially disadvantaged than their non-CJ-involved counterparts. Alarmingly, they were nearly three times as likely to have engaged in problem drinking (e.g., two drinks a day for a month) than non-CJ-involved women. Negative behavioral consequences resulting from alcohol consumption and concurrent use of other substances were also significantly more pervasive among drinkers under community supervision. Effective prevention and control of the problem requires rethinking the role of corrections systems in health promotion. Concrete recommendations are discussed.