Pregnant women are ignored and mistreated in jails across the country. Without abortion rights, it will only get worse.
Studies show that pregnant incarcerated women have higher rates of poor perinatal outcomes, such as miscarriage, preterm infants, and infants who are small for their gestational age, compared to women in the general population. This is likely due to the fact that several jails and state prisons do not have any implemented prenatal care policies. Based on data collected by the American Civil Liberty Union, 23 out of 50 state prison policies do not provide screening or treatment for high-risk pregnancies. This means that pregnant people who are at-risk for pre-eclampsia, struggling with substance abuse, or are HIV-positive do not receive appropriate treatment. Additionally, when the inevitable time comes to deliver her child only 26 out of 50 state prisons have codified arrangements for labor and delivery which leaves room for incidents such as Diana’s to happen again and again.
However, even when there is policy in place, this still does not ensure that pregnant people are actually receiving the care they need. In Diana’s case, the Denver County Jail did have a codified labor and delivery protocol. However, even with protocol in place, she was not provided any of the appropriate care she needed and still gave birth alone in a jail cell. In another instance, in 2017, a woman in a Florida county jail also gave birth alone despite screaming for help. And once again, this county jail had labor and delivery statutes in place, yet no care was given. At the national level, all U.S prisons and jails are required to provide prenatal care under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. However, there are currently no federal standards to ensure that pregnant people are actually receiving the care they need.
An Alabama county is holding pregnant women in jail for months without a conviction because they admitted to using drugs, sometimes legal and sometimes before they knew they were pregnant.
23-year-old Ashley Banks was charged with chemical endangerment of a child after police allegedly found marijuana on her during a traffic stop. She admitted to smoking marijuana on the day she learned she was pregnant, but before she confirmed her pregnancy. Etowah County, located in northeastern Alabama, arrested her and ordered her to remain in jail until she completed a drug treatment program and raised a $10,000 cash bond.
The policy kept Banks in jail for three months. The court’s substance abuse agency refused to admit her because their assessment proved her to be a casual smoker of marijuana, not an addict. Because she wasn’t addicted to drugs, she had to wait in jail, enduring severe vaginal bleeding and two emergency room visits, until a judge granted her release last month on conditions that did not include drug treatment.
Banks has a high-risk pregnancy due to a family history of miscarriage. She said she was jailed at around six weeks of pregnancy. About six weeks into her incarceration, she started bleeding and was taken to Gadsden Regional Medical Center, according to court documents. Doctors diagnosed her with a subchorionic hematoma, a condition where blood pools near the wall of the uterus.
The condition increases the chances of miscarriage and preterm delivery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Banks said jail officials told her she could sleep on the bottom bunk because of her high-risk pregnancy. However, her cell had one bottom bunk and two women assigned to sleep in it. So, the other woman used the bed, according to court documents, and Banks slept on the floor.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) estimates that Banks was one of about 12 pregnant women held in Etowah on chemical endangerment charges in August.
A pregnant black activist, jailed in South Carolina for disrupting the peace during a racial justice rally, will have her draconian sentence reconsidered.
Police body camera footage obtained by the AP does not show Brittany Martin, 34, physically touching any officers. Videos show her chanting “No justice, no peace,” in an officer’s face. Days later, at another protest, she told officers: “Some of us gon’ be hurting. And some of y’all gon’ be hurting. We ready to die for this. We tired of it. You better be ready to die for the blue. I’m ready to die for the Black.”
Martin was indicted on charges of aggravated breach of peace, instigating a riot, and five counts of threatening the life of a public official. Despite only being found guilty of breaching the peace—a crime that is punishable by up to 30 days in jail—Martin was sentenced to four years in prison. Why? Because prosecutors presented the charge as a “high and aggravated” crime, which carries up to 10 years imprisonment.
“She’s in jail because she talked in America,” said Sybil Dione Rosado, her trial attorney. “She’s a dark-skinned Black woman who is unapologetically Black and radical.”
Rosado told the AP that South Carolina Judge Kirk Griffin, re-elected in 2021, did not allow her to explain to the jury the impact the “aggravated” distinction would have on Martin’s sentence.
Now, Martin is experiencing complications during her pregnancy behind bars, entering preterm labor and losing 12 pounds.
“It’s been times in this prison where I have started giving up for a second, mentally and emotionally,” Martin said. “It seemed like the Holy Spirit just put that spoon in my mouth, like ‘Come on, you’ve got to eat. You’ve got to get up.’”
A woman who miscarried due to the “deliberate indifference” of her jailers has been offered a deal with the California county over six years later.
Sandra Quinones was six months pregnant and in custody in 2016 at the Orange County Women’s jail when her water broke. She pushed the call button to alert an officer, but no one responded for two hours, her lawsuit states. When officers finally arrived, they did not provide medical treatment and stopped at a Starbucks on the way to the hospital, leaving Quinones “bleeding and in labor” in the back of a police van.
At the hospital, the baby was born and then died shortly after. Quinones remained in custody for another month, during which time jail officials told her “that she did not deserve to have a baby and to not make an issue out of the incident as it was her fault, and if she does, she will be prosecuted for the death of the baby.”
The district court initially dismissed her lawsuit accusing Orange County authorities of denial of medical care and negligent treatment because the statute of limitations had expired. However, on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, her lawyers argued that the PTSD and mental instability she suffered after losing her child was so debilitating that it warranted an extension of the statute of limitations. The appellate court agreed and reinstated her case.
In light of her lawsuit’s probability of success, Orange County supervisors unanimously approved a $480,000 settlement for Quinones last month. She still needs to accept the settlement before it becomes final.
“The Orange County jail is capable of sinking to the lowest depths,” Herman told the Los Angeles Times. “Unfortunately this is not the only occasion.”
- Further reading: The Orange County jail has a history of ignoring and mistreating pregnant women in custody. Another woman was denied transportation to a hospital when she entered labor in 2018, causing the loss of her baby.