Jailed Women in California Choose Children, Treatment Over Teeth

Incarcerated women in California are being forced to choose between healthy teeth or seeing their children and having access to a substance abuse treatment or vocational program. To gain access to such programs, they must not have any pre-existing health problems. This is due to the fact that the 3 women’s institutions were left at the bottom of an implementation schedule designed to improve dental care in all state prisons over 3 years.

One bad tooth could prevent a woman jailed for a non-violent offense from entering specialized programs for drug rehabilitation, vocational training or teaching parenting skills while living with her children in special housing. These programs come at a smaller tab to taxpayers compared to keeping the women in prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says that the health clearance is necessary because these specialize programs are located at smaller facilities without dentists or doctors on site.

The result is that women are having their teeth pulled rather than waiting for months to more than a year to be seen by dentist. According to The Mercury News, 9,000 teeth are pulled each year in California’s three female institutions, which house more than 12,000 women.

“Being a woman, I just feel degraded, really bad,” said inmate Sarina Borg who had 3 teeth pulled so she could be reunited with her baby daughter.

Losing teeth may give these women the right to programs they need and to see their children, but it also adds to their low self-esteem. It also gives them a disadvantage when they do get out of prison and have to find a job. The rough appearance and criminal record won’t take these women very far.

“I’d rather lose a tooth than not have my baby, so to me it was worth it,” 31-year-old Michelle Filby said. “But it would have been nice to maybe get a root canal or fillings.”

Ask a mother to choose anything over her child, and she will almost always choose her child. Women often choose taking care of their children over taking care of themselves. This is a huge barrier to getting substance abuse treatment, not to mention the social stigma attached to a mother with addiction issues.

Rachel Roth, an independent scholar and national expert on the health issues of women in prison, said the dental-clearance policy “just shows how desperate women are to get out of the big prisons and be with their children that they would allow themselves to be treated in such an inhumane way.”

Read the full article from The Mercury News: A painful choice for moms in prison

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