Carolyn Sufrin

Dec 1, 2017


Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars

University of California Press 2017

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In 1976, the landmark supreme court case Estelle v. Gamble, established that under the Eighth Amendment "deliberate indifference" to the health needs of incarcerated individuals was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. Now, jails and prisons are one of the rare places in the contemporary U.S. where healthcare is deemed a right and not a privilege. In her new ethnography Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women behind Bars (University of California Press, 2017), physician and Anthropologist, Carolyn Sufrin, examines what this means for incarcerated women when health care, coercion and violence coalesce. In addition to describing in detail how women experience healthcare and motherhood in custody, she offers us devastating diagnoses of how broken our current health and social safety nets are that women come to desire the cruel relative safety of jail.

My conversation with Dr. Sufrin just begins to tackle the rich, beautiful and devastatingly complex lives of the women she encountered and cared for as both a clinician and social scientist. While an academic monograph, this book is accessible to scholars, activists and concerned citizens alike.

Dana Greenfield, PhD is a medical anthropologist and an MD candidate at the University of California, San Francisco. Her dissertation explored how the quantified-self movement and digital health technologies are shaping new ways of deriving personal and medical meaning out of new forms of data. Next year, she will begin a residency in Pediatrics. She can be reached at, or on Twitter @DanaGfield.

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