In 2008, the federal Bureau of Prisons passed a policy prohibiting the use of restraints on women in custody who are in labor, delivery or postpartum recovery. In 2009, Texas passed a law banning the use of shackles on incarcerated pregnant women during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. But, as both the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Jail Project have found, for women in the state’s prisons, mental hospitals, and county jails, the law has not always been put into practice.
Posts Tagged ‘ pregnant inmates ’
Outside of the lockups, few know how pregnant women are treated. But for years, Diana Claitor, co-founder and director of the Texas Jail Project, has been trying to get a glimpse inside. Her approach is to work with inmates and families to navigate the system, instructing them on how to file complaints and get help when they need it. In the process, she’s learned a lot about how jails fail pregnant women.
One of the first calls Claitor remembers came in 2007 from a woman whose daughter had miscarried while in jail. She asked Claitor how she could recover the body of her grandchild.
“It was so sad and such a desperate outreach from an older woman who knew of no one to go to,” Claitor said. As word of her organization spread online, she began hearing from more and more women—an outpouring that is reflected in recent data.
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 Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
We believe that those “vulnerable members” include people in Texas county jails. Especially in those counties where we hear from numerous familes begging for help for loved ones: sons abused by other prisoners and guards, pregnant daughters losing weight and needing care, veterans with mental illness locked in solitary, geriatric parents needing medical care. That’s when you call on the DOJ.
A new coalition is in town: Texas Jail Project, Mama Sana/Vibrant Women along with ACLU of Texas and Amnesty International. You are welcome to join in—we need all the help we can get—because it will take a concerted effort to move the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and county sheriffs to make changes in the way they care for pregnant inmates in county jails.
In this San Antonio Current article, Alexa Garcia-Ditta provides outstanding writing on this complex subject. She leads with the story of 29-year-old Shela Williams, who was incarcerated in the Travis County Jail during a high-risk pregnancy. Her baby Israel died, and Shela wasn’t allowed to attend his funeral. She shares her painful story, to raise awareness of the need for better health care for pregnant women in local jails.
In May, a woman named Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail for ignoring her when she was in labor. Locked alone in a cell, Nicole gave birth on a mat on the floor to a premature baby who died.What’s going on in Texas? Jails in the state are endangering pregnant women and their fetuses, despite the state’s professed interest in “unborn babies.”
In July, a woman named Jessica De Samito in the Guadalupe County Jail worried she might face a similar fate. Jail officials were noncommittal about giving Jessica the methadone she needs to keep from going into sudden withdrawal – a physically draining process that can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.
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.”
Attention: Nacogdoches County
When jailers and sheriffs disapprove of an inmate, does that give them the right to deny that person fair treatment? Humane conditions? A trained jailer should surely know that the answer is “no,” and that verbal abuse and judgmental attitudes can be disastrous for inmates with serious problems. Like Cathryn Windham, 7 months pregnant and currently incarcerated in your county jail. Pre-trial, convicted of nothing but accused of many things. All of which may not even be true. This college graduate has a long-documented history of mental illness and yes, she has used drugs. And so it would appear that you have found her guilty of being an imperfect mother-to-be. I suggest the jail, sheriff, and this county are failing her by not recognizing mental disorders in a pregnant woman are a complicated business, and not necessarily deserving of hostility and punishment.
Each month Texas county jails tally the number of pregnant inmates and report that to the Jail Commission. Some are only held there a few days, but others may be incarcerated for weeks and months and a number will deliver their babies in local hospitals while in custody.
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.