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.
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“It’s their vulnerability, the fact lots of medical and mental problems occur in jail,” said Diana Claitor, of the Texas Jail Project, which advocates for inmates across the state. “When jails take custody of a human being, they’re constitutionally required to care and protect for them, and maintain pretty much constant supervision of them.”
Of the 24 suicides in the Harris County jail or jails in Waller, Liberty, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Galveston, Chambers and Brazoria county, jailers failed to conduct proper suicide screenings or observation checks in at least a third of them, according to state records.
“Someone doesn’t have to be actively suicidal to spiral downwards,” Claitor said. “There’s a huge emotional impact of being put in jail itself. If they have mental health issues, its even more urgent they be constantly examined and judged as to their mental and emotional state.”