The general impression of pregnant women in jail is not a sympathetic one. The first thing that comes to mind is usually a mental picture of a hard-faced woman who couldn’t look much further from our preconceived notions of maternal. Either that or in our mind's eye we see a drug addict whom we assume has probably no regard for her unborn child by taking the drugs that landed her in jail in the first place.
The reality could not be much further from the truth. The majority of women who find themselves in jail when they are pregnant are there for minor parole violations or are reporting to serve a sentence for a crime they committed well before they became pregnant.
While these women have ended up in jail through their own actions, very few of them have done anything that should warrant jail time, pregnant or not. Many women find themselves in prison because they do not have the financial means to pay bail or to retain a lawyer to get them out. If they had disposable income, they would never set foot in jail.
Bear that in mind as you read these stories of women who, usually as a result of an unsympathetic system focussed on punishment instead of rehabilitation, have not only lost their babies but have done so in unimaginable circumstances.
15A Life Sentence Of Loss For 16 Days In Jail
Shawna Tanner pleaded guilty to a parole violation and was sent back to jail for 16 days as a punishment. This would not be newsworthy except for the fact that Tanner was heavily pregnant at the time and ended up giving birth to her baby in jail.
Tanner says the jail staff ignored her pleas for help when she began cramping and bleeding. This continued through to the next day when she continued to ask for help.
A former inmate gave birth to her baby in jail, but the baby didn’t survive. Now the woman is suing, claiming staff at MDC ignored her pleas for help. The frantic mom-to-be was locked in a cell in the infirmary and accused of drug seeking. Finally, paramedics were called, but Tanner was already in labor and gave birth in the jail, assisted by the paramedics because the jail nurse and doctor refused to help.
Tanner's baby wasn’t breathing and could not be revived, and subsequent inquiries have shown the baby died because of placental abruption, a condition that could have been treated without harm to the baby if the jail staff had intervened.
14First Time Mom Suffers The Hardest Loss
When Krystal Moore began experiencing abdominal pain on September 11th, 2011 she didn’t initially think she might be in labor because she was only six months pregnant. Unable to get into the shower because of the level of pain she was in, Moore called for help as the pressure in her abdomen escalated.
Guards called the nurse, who was not on site and she said “Krystal Moore, she’s—in my opinion, a lot of times she’s full of shit,” the nurse told the guard. “You can go eyeball her and call me back if you want. She’s probably full of shit. But you can let her know that she can see the doctor tomorrow if she’d like.”
That afternoon Moore began bleeding and was finally taken to the hospital after she started screaming, although the correctional officers made her walk down the stairs from her cell and out to the ambulance.
Upon arrival, Moore was shackled to the hospital bed after she had been found to be fully dilated. At 5:20 pm, Moore gave birth to twins. Moore was still shackled to the bed when she was told, a day later, that one of her twins had died. The second baby survived for 16 days, and medical experts have stated that had she been taken to the hospital at the first signs of pain, there was a possibility that labor could have been slowed or stopped and the twins might have been saved.
13Thank Goodness For Compassionate Hospital Staff
Ambrett Spencer was not a first-time mom and when she woke up at 2:40 am suffering from pain in her abdomen she knew something was not right. The baby was due any day now, but these were not labor pains.
Spencer was serving a jail sentence for a DUI she committed before she was pregnant and called a corrections officer for help. That officer called the infirmary, and on the phone, the nurse told Spencer to go to the infirmary immediately.
The nurse took Spencer's blood pressure and detected a fetal heartbeat at 4:00 am and decided there was no emergency, but within an hour Spencer lost consciousness and her blood pressure was so low the nurse couldn’t insert an IV.
Spencer was taken by ambulance where her 9-pound baby girl was delivered, lifeless. To add insult to injury, jail staff attempted to enforce the policy they have where inmates are not given the opportunity to see their babies after the birth. Fortunately, hospital staff defied the jail staff and brought Spencer her daughter to hold.
12Medical History Ignored
Despite her medical history of miscarriages, Bridgette Gibbs was denied any medical attention at all during the two months she spent in the Westchester County jail in New York. There were no routine antenatal examinations, and in her second trimester, she went into labor.
Gibbs was strip-searched and shackled at the hands, waist, and ankles before being taken to the hospital.
Once in the hospital, medical staff told Gibbs that she had gone into labor because of a treatable infection that would have been picked up during a regular medical exam but it was now too late to do anything.
Gibbs gave birth to twins while she was handcuffed to her hospital bed. Later, she was still handcuffed to the bed when the staff came to tell her both of the twins had died.
11Birthing Alone In A Jail Cell
Corrections officers at a Milwaukee jail laughed as Shadé Swayzer asked for medical help when she went into labor. Even after her waters had broken nobody came to help or called for external medical aid.
Sawyer alerted the staff at midnight that her waters had broken and gave birth at 4 am without receiving any aid. It was 6 am before anyone came to help her. Sawyer says during that time she breastfed her baby who cried loudly and could be heard by others in the jail.
When officers did come to her aid, it was too late. Sawyers daughter was unresponsive, and instead of transporting mother and baby to the hospital immediately, staff called fire rescue to come and try to revive the baby, but they were unsuccessful, and the newborn died in the same dirty jail cell in which she was born.
Jennifer Lawson was nearly nine months pregnant when she spent one week at the jail on a probation violation for a fraud conviction in 2015. While in prison, Lawson was not given the methadone she had been taking to combat her drug addiction and instead was given Tylenol 3 to take. There is some controversy over the use of Tylenol 3 during pregnancy as it contains the opiate codeine and it is unclear if it has an adverse effect on the baby. Methadone, however, is considered safe to take.
Before being taken to jail, Lawson was taken to the hospital where staff said she and the baby were in good health. For her first six days in prison, the staff found a fetal heartbeat but on the seventh, they could not. Lawson was taken to hospital where she gave birth to a stillborn son the next day.
The Sheriff's Office released Lawson from their custody while she was on the way to the hospital. This means they do not have to investigate the death of the baby and it is not considered a death.
9Another Unaided Birth
Nicole Guerrero was eight and a half months pregnant when she was taken to Wichita Jail in Texas. Ten days later she began to experience pain in her lower back, abdominal cramps, heavy vaginal discharge and then heavy bleeding. The nurse on duty said there was no need to worry unless she bled through two sanitary napkins.
After a number of painful hours, alone in her cell, Guerrero pressed the emergency button, but it was over four hours before she was taken to the the infirmary. The nurse on duty did not examine Guerrero but instead placed her in a holding cell without a toilet, sink, or emergency button. No help came when she cried because her waters had broken.
A little after 5 am Guerrero felt her baby's head crown and called for help again. A passing guard helped her deliver her daughter who was dark purple and unresponsive. The baby's umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around her neck.
The nurse finally appeared but did not attempt to resuscitate the baby who was rushed to the hospital by the EMTs who arrived 20 minutes later. The baby was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:30 am while her mother was still in the cage where she delivered the placenta.
8A Baby Taken Away
Despite protests from the hospital staff and a legal ruling that it should not happen, Sierra Watts gave birth in a hospital while shackled to her bed. The new mom was able to spend 24 hours with her newborn son before she was transported back to the jail.
Watts had made arrangements for her mother to have temporary guardianship of her son, but child welfare workers refused to allow the boy to go with his grandmother and instead he was left alone at the hospital over the weekend.
Watts cried as she said, “He was going to stay in the hospital with nobody holding him; nobody knows where he’s going, nobody’s even going to tell me where he’s going,”
It wasn’t until the following Tuesday that she learned he had been placed in foster care and she saw him only once during a prison visit a year later.
Because her son was in foster care for 15 out of 22 months Watts' parental rights were terminated. When she fought to retain custody, she was told to give up or she would never see or hear anything about her son again.
Watts receives the occasional photo of her son but is not allowed any contact, and he doesn’t know who she is.
7A Mismanaged Miscarriage
On January 11th, 2015, a 28-year-old woman in police custody was taken to a hospital appointment where an ultrasound confirmed that she was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant. The woman, Alyssa Bennett, was taken from the hospital appointment straight to the jail. Bennett, who had started committing petty thefts after her two and a half-year-old son was run down and killed by a drunk driver, had stolen a bottle of vodka.
Bennett told the prison staff she was bleeding and was eventually taken to the hospital on January 16th where it was determined there was no fetal heartbeat, but she has returned straight away to the jail without any further intervention and was told an appointment would be made for her to have the fetal remains removed. This never happened.
By January 25th Bennett was bleeding uncontrollably in her cell, and her fellow inmates were screaming for help but were ignored. When an officer did appear, it was a male member of staff and they had to wait for the nurse.
The nurse flushed the remains of Bennetts pregnancy down the toilet while the traumatized woman watched on in horror. Bennett was then stripped searched and handcuffed and taken to the hospital in the back of a prison van.
6Never Held Her Baby
Kandyce discovered she was already pregnant shortly after being incarcerated. The mom-to-be saw a doctor regularly but the prison nurse often failed to implement his recommendations. For example, her doctor recommended she be given a wedge pillow, an extra mattress, as the prison ones were so thin, and extra blankets. Eventually, she was allowed a couple of extra blankets, but that was all, and they were confiscated as contraband during the monthly room checks.
Kandyce was told she would need a C-section and be placed in the prison's inpatient unit the night before. She was alone in one small room with no TV; not even a book was allowed and by the time she was taken to the hospital at 11 am the next morning she was almost hysterical with panic.
The doctor at the hospital, whom she had never met before, decided she was so worked up she would have to have the operation under general anesthetic. Kandyce had to give her baby up at birth, having never had the opportunity to see or hold her.
5Long-Lasting Effects Of A Jail Birth
This case is a little different. The baby was born in jail but died a year later.
On September 25th, Julie Bilotta was taken to prison and was 36 weeks pregnant. On September 28th she was vomiting but received no medical attention, and by the afternoon of the 29th, she had repeatedly complained of abdominal pain. Bilotta, who was told she was not in labor, was moved to a segregation cell at 5:30 pm because of her noise and at 6 pm was given over the counter pain meds.
Two hours later, Bilotta screamed that there was a foot sticking out of her and the guard suggested it might have been an attempt to smuggle drugs into the jail and that it was actually a contraband package. A different guard paged a medical emergency at 8:20 pm and five minutes later both of the baby's feet were visible, but no ambulance was called.
Paramedics arrived at 9:15 pm and delivered Bilotta's son six minutes later, breech with the cord around his neck.
Mom and baby were rushed to hospital where Bilotta received two blood transfusions, and her son was finally taken to medical care. Sadly he died a year later.
4Forced To Give Up Her Baby
Michelle Spruill gave birth while serving her prison sentence and her newborn went to live with the same foster parents her older son was already with. Spruill was determined to turn her life around so in jail she took parenting classes and substance abuse treatment. She did so well that two years into her five-year sentence she was released to a halfway house and began the legal proceedings to reunite with her sons.
“Too little, too late,” is what a state attorney told her when she came up against the Adoption and Safe Families Act 1997 that allows the state to take away parental rights once a child has spent 15 months in foster care.
After it was suggested she might also lose her older son, Spruill, who is still drug and crime free seven years later, gave up her rights so her two youngest sons could stay together and be adopted by their foster family. The ex-prisoner who has also found faith in the Christian church has not seen her baby since his birth and will now never see or hear from him again.
3Too Early For Labor
At around 8 pm on New Year's Day, Angela Booker was booked into jail in New Albany. Booker told staff that she was pregnant, but because they did not have any full time medical staff she was told she would see the nurse the next day. Meanwhile, Booker was placed in a holding cell in a medical observation area.
On January 5th, at around 6 pm Booker, who had two older children and was familiar with the signs of labor, told officers she had abdominal pain. A nurse was called, and she said there were “no big issues” and then left for the day.
By 11 pm Booker was experiencing pain again and told staff she thought she might be in pre-term labor. At this stage, she had not hit the 24-week threshold for ‘viability’ and told staff if she went to the hospital they might be able to give her medications to stop the labor.
The staff called a doctor who told them to monitor her, despite having no knowledge of any medical history nor examining Booker. At about 4 am the next morning, Booker miscarried her baby on a mat on her cell floor.
After the late miscarriage Booker was taken to hospital and after receiving treatment, she was released from custody.
2Leaking Fluid Ignored
Pregnant with her fifth child, Tara Rhodes was in her second trimester when she was arrested and held at the Mississippi County Detention Center in Charleston, Missouri. Three days into her time at the jail, Rhodes began leaking amniotic fluid and experiencing abdominal pain, but when she alerted jail staff, she was told she would have to wait to see a doctor.
That wait took five days, during which Rhodes begged for help even filing an official grievance for help, which was never answered.
With her pants soaked in fluid, a corrections officer told her to use a tampon, and as she began bleeding, passing thick blood clots, she was told to stop faking it.
By December 22nd, Rhodes was unable to walk, so she was dragged, on a sleeping mat, to a holding cell, waiting for a transfer to the correctional medical facility, five hours away. The next morning she was shackled at the ankles and wrists, and these were attached to a belly chain, in case she tried to escape. During this drive, Rhodes saw her fluid change from clear to green, and when they finally arrived at the facility, she was sent straight to a hospital.
Once in the hospital, it was found that Rhodes was 2 centimeters dilated, all of her amniotic fluid had leaked away, the baby had passed meconium, the umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, and the baby's blackened foot was extending from her vagina. It was too late to save the baby, and Rhodes gave birth to a stillborn child on Christmas Eve.
1Life-Saving Medications Withheld
Nakehba Hooper had been prescribed medications because she lacked an RH antigen in her blood. A condition that could result in severe damage to an unborn child, brain damage or even death.
When she was taken to jail on October 6th, 2012 Hooper told staff she was five months pregnant, told them about her condition and her medications. Hooper claims that the staff failed to give her the drugs she was prescribed, and that they also failed to provide the accommodations she was entitled to as a pregnant inmate. These were an extra mattress, extra blankets, extra food, and prenatal vitamins.
On October 21st she began to suffer pain and called for help. A nurse saw her and said she would call a doctor, but by 5 pm Hooper had still not received any medical support. When her cellmates began to cause a fuss, Hooper was handcuffed and shackled and taken in the back of a prison transport van to the hospital where an ER doctor told her it was now too late to save her baby.
Hooper miscarried her child later that evening.
docs.Justia.com, TheDailyBeast.com, NewsAndTribune.com, img.alternet.org, GlobeAndMail.com, InTheseTimes.com, NationalPost.com, TheGuardian.com, krqe.com, PhoenixNewTimes.com, Rewire.news, jsonline.com,
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