Alcohol and Pregnancy among Women on Probation or Parole in the United States

A missed ‘high-risk’ group?


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There’s been a fair amount of discussion recently about the over-representation of individuals with FASD in the criminal justice system. So, I was interested to see a research study on alcohol and pregnancy among women serving community sentences, i.e., women on probation and parole.

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1.1 million women were under community supervision in 2008. The study found that, on average for the time period, 4.7% of women under community supervision were pregnant (as compared to 1.9% in the general population). This means that women under community supervision have a pregnancy rate approximately two times as high as the general population. It also means that approximately 53,000 women on probation or parole were pregnant in 2008.

The study does a great job at showing patterns of alcohol use before and after pregnancy and linking these patterns to mental health and physical health problems, other substance use including smoking, poverty, ethnic background, and age.

In general, pregnant women under community supervision are at a much higher risk of using or misusing alcohol during their pregnancy than women in the general population.

The author describes potential opportunities within the criminal justice system to better support women. Overall, I found this task in which “probation and parole overseer must be transformed from bureaucratic agents of control and surveillance into active screeners for medical needs and providers of healthcare services” (p. 507) to be rather ambitious – clearly beyond the scope of the paper.

But I did find the author’s comment on relational care and motivational interviewing interesting, especially as it supports the evidence-base in other areas:

“Probation and parole officers trained in motivational interviewing and positive conduct reinforcement have proved to be more effective….The working relationship between officers and supervised pregnant women is important in creating an environment where offenders feel they can trust the officer and are motivated to comply with the conditions of release.” (p. 507)


Sung, H.-E. (2012). Pregnancy and drinking among women offenders under community supervision in the United States: 2002-2008. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 89(3): 500-509. doi:10.1007/s11524-011-9658-2

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