Pregnant for the first time at 33, Alice* was seeing a doctor and committed to a healthy pregnancy. Although she had longstanding mental health problems and substance use, she was prioritizing the health of her baby during pregnancy. But when she was arrested and held in the Nacogdoches County Jail for seven weeks pretrial, she was denied prenatal care for weeks and had repeated problems obtaining her life-sustaining medicine. Emotionally distraught, she was placed in solitary and treated as a problem prisoner. Both Alice and her mother Sally, a schoolteacher, were threatened with retaliation for making complaints.
Women and Jails
The Austin Chronicle Best of Austin 2015 – Best Justice for Mamas Behind Bars: Texas Jail Project, ACLU of Texas, and MamaSanaOct 9th, 2015 | By admin
For the first time ever, Texas county jails will be required to report on how they care for pregnant inmates – to ‘fess up about food, bedding, and medical care. That’s thanks to hard work by the Texas Jail Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman. The three groups joined forces to protect pregnant mothers in county jails this legislative session by helping get HB 1140 passed. The law requires accountability, transparency, and solid data to improve the lives of mamas behind bars.
Judging pregnant women is easy to do, especially when they’re in jail. The way some people talk, you’d think that these women set out to a. get pregnant and b. get themselves thrown in jail. Worse still, some officers and officials go on to dismiss any incarcerated woman as immoral, irresponsible, and unconcerned about her baby.
Consequently, when she complains about a lack of food, water, and vitamins, or a lack of medical care, everything she says can be dismissed as a lie. But you already knew that all inmates lie, right?
In a new, in-depth investigatory series from RH Reality Check, we hear an LVN answer a staffer reporting a pregnant woman in extreme distress by saying, “You can go eyeball her and call me back if you want. She’s probably full of shit.” After an agonizing amount of neglect and trauma, that woman’s twin babies died.
The Austin Chronicle asked TJP’s Executive Director what could prevent further tragedies like the death of Sandra Bland. ‘We need there to be more training of jailers to have the knowledge and temperament to take their role as caretaker very seriously – because the emphasis on security and regimented rules leads to jailers who do not pay attention to the person who may be sick or angry or mentally ill,” says Diana Claitor. “Jailers need to look after the people in their care as if each was a relative instead of viewing them as the enemy. And we need the jail and jailers to be thoroughly investigated each and every time a person dies of suicide or any death inside the jail itself …. Finally, we need independent investigations by someone other than the Texas Rangers, who are not transparent in the least and are extremely connected to the local law enforcement.”
In California, an organization called Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) is doing work similar to the work of Texas Jail Project and Mama Sana and Moms of Color Rising. They recently formed a committee of advocates to launch a new strategy for improving health care for pregnant and post postpartum women in California jails and prisons. Their goals are excellent and practical, and they also emphasize an important objective: a change in perception. They describe it as “Shifting the paradigm around who people think women prisoners are, and figuring out how to get legislative campaigns and other information to a larger public.”
The international community is now reading about Texas in this new report on shackling in the U.S. Unfortunately. Some of the information is derived from research and observations by Texas Jail Project.
I remember a female warden of a Texas county jail telling me how much more difficult–”moody and emotional” –women were and that she’d rather deal with male inmates any day. She might consider this study by the Center for Gender and Justice that shows a huge percentage–75%–of the women in county jails having mental disorders.
April was 36 years old and 22 weeks along in her pregnancy when she was arrested and taken to the Bosque County Jail, on May 2nd. She died there May 4th. Even though her death has been ruled a suicide, her sister and other family and friendshave questions about how this could happen. As in all similar jail deaths, the Texas Rangers are investigating, but Texas Jail Project has concerns about that investigation. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information.
The young nurse working at the Montague County jail was recently charged with fraternizing with an inmate and smuggling tobacco to him. She works for a private contractor named Southern Health Partners: it’s a good bet that the pay from the contractor is low and the hours long. She isn’t working in ideal conditions and her patients aren’t always easy to deal with.
Now let’s look at the company: Southern Health Partners was contracted to provide medical care for the people held here. Since January 1, 2012 to last week, I counted 77 lawsuits filed against them, in states across the south. While nurses have to be held accountable, let’s hope that the county and the people of the county also keep a very close watch on how well this medical provider does their job in Montague County.
In the spring of 2012, 22-year-old graduate student Kristina Sadler began asking questions about the nutrition and diet received by pregnant inmates in the Harris County Jail. She came up with questions, interviewed staff there and reported on what the jail considers adequate nutrition for incarcerated women who are pregnant. Researcher/writer Krishnaveni Gundu presents an analysis of what Sadler found in the context of other reports and information about pregnancy while incarcerated. TJP hopes more graduate students will see this and be inspired to begin similar projects at other county jails around Texas.