Priscilla Ocen: “Mass Incarceration and the Incapacitation of Motherhood: Reproductive Justice and Prison Abolition as Ways Forward”

Location: UT Law School, Sheffield-Massey Room (TNH 2.111)

Co-sponsored by the Pipeline Beyond Program at Texas Law

Abstract: Incapacitation, or the idea of removing dangerous people from society, is one of the most significant contemporary penal rationales in the US. People in women’s prisons have been uniquely devastated by the deployment of this rationale. The US is home to the largest and fastest growing women’s prison population in the world, nearly seventy percent of whom are the primary caretakers of small children at the time of their arrest and approximately eighty percent of whom are of reproductive age. This talk highlights the racialized and gendered ways that incapacitation has been used to regulate the bodies and reproductive capacities of marginalized women. Specifically, through the “incapacitation of motherhood,” people in women’s prisons are alienated from their children, denied reproductive care, humiliated during pregnancy and postpartum recovery, and in some cases, sterilized. The talk explores ways to contest these practices through both law and social movements, including prison abolition, informed by the principles of reproductive justice.

Priscilla Ocen is Professor of Law at Loyola Law School, where she teaches criminal procedure, reproductive justice, and a seminar on race, gender and the law. Her work explores the ways in which the intersection of race, gender and class make women of color vulnerable to various forms of violence and criminalization. Ocen’s writing has published extensively in academic law journals as well as in popular media outlets. She is co-author (along with Kimberlé Crenshaw and Jyoti Nanda) of the influential policy report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected (2015). She received the inaugural PEN America Writing for Justice Literary Fellowship (2018–19) for her research exploring the struggles of women on paroleProfessor Ocen also served as a 2019–20 Fulbright Fellow, based out of Makerere University School of Law in Kampala, Uganda, where she studied the relationship between gender-based violence and women’s incarceration. In 2021, Professor Ocen was appointed to the California Penal Code Revision Committee by Governor Gavin Newsome. Professor Ocen received a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and a B.A. from San Diego State University.


  • Nessette Falu Assistant Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies Department
Event series: Sissy Farenthold Reproductive Justice Defense Project, Sissy Farenthold Fund for Peace and Social Justice, Colloquia, Reproductive Justice, Criminal Law, and the Carceral State