Improving Health Equity for Women Involved in the Criminal Legal System.


Criminal legal system (CLS)-involvement increases risk of physical and sexual violence, with direct or indirect health and health care effects, which impact families and communities. We delineate reproductive health and motherhood, aging in prison, and reentry as critical areas exemplifying women’s complex health related needs, which may be best addressed via gender-responsive and trauma-informed care. Women involved with the CLS (WICLS) have different experiences and needs in comparison with men involved in the CLS as well as other women living in the community without CLS involvement. These complex medical, psychiatric, and social conditions may require dedicated high quality, comprehensive, and evidence-based health care in prisons and jails, which link women to care and support in the community on release. Patient-centered care is well-suited to address the heterogeneity of experiences, identities, and health conditions and to support developing well-tailored, structurally competent interventions and programs for WICLS.


Bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, which includes improving the health of WICLS, is gaining support. The Second Chance Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, and the First Step Act of 2018 have been enacted. The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which focuses on health, visitation, programming, oversight, and telecommunications, was reintroduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker in April 2019. The First Step Act, which only applies to federal contexts, contains some of the Dignity Act's clauses: menstrual product provision, shackling bans, and incarceration closer to home. Moreover, the proposed 2018 Pregnant Women in Custody Act supports data collection and reporting on pregnant women, prohibiting restrictive housing and restraints, and addressing health care needs in federal prisons. Relatedly, Senators Ann McLane Kuster and Booker's proposed Humane Correctional Health Care Act seeks to improve health care delivery and treatment behind bars (Kuster & Booker, 2019). As a public health community committed to advancing equity, we must evaluate and support legal and legislative reform that seeks to improve health care quality and access for this often overlooked population.

Author Comments

cynthia golembeski 2, MPH
cynthia golembeski 2, MPH
Rutgers University
JD/PhD student
Newark, New Jersey | United States
*Authored by clinicians, researchers, faculty, policy experts, and women who are formerly incarcerated. Cynthia Golembeski (Rutgers); Carolyn Sufrin (JHU); Brie Williams (UCSF); Precious Bedell (U of Rochester), Sherry Glied (NYU); Ingrid Binswanger (UC Denver); Donna Hylton (A Little Piece of Light); Tyler Winkelman (UMN); and Jaimie Meyers (Yale).cynthia golembeski 2, MPH


Improving Health Equity for Women Involved in the Criminal Legal System. Women’s Health Issues.

Improving Health Equity for Women Involved in the Criminal Legal System

Women's Health Issues

Improving Health Equity for Women Involved in the Criminal Legal System Golembeski, Cynthia A. et al. Women's Health Issues. Jul. 2020.

Available online:
July 2020
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