This introductory chapter provides a snapshot of maternal care in jails and how it reveals two deeply entrenched crises in U.S. society: mass incarceration and health care inequalities. Jail and the broader system of incarceration, referred to as the “carceral system,” have become an integral part of U.S. society's social and medical safety net. The chapter illustrates a historical trajectory that is peculiar to the United States and that represents one of its greatest tragedies, defined by the whittling away of public services for the poor, coupled with an escalation in the number of jails and prisons serving as sites for the care of that same population. Statistics on the disproportionate number of incarcerated women and people of color are also discussed. Finally, the chapter provides an overview of jailcare conditions in San Francisco's jail, which serves as the case study for this volume.
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