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What to Expect When Giving Birth in Jail

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 29, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Of all the places to give birth, jail sounds the least appealing. While jails and prisons in every state are required to provide medical care for their inmates, the way pregnancy and birth are handled varies quite a bit from state to state. Perhaps one of the most shocking practices that is allowed in over half the states is restraining or shackling an expectant mother, even while in labor, to the bed.

When it comes to questionable policies, it doesn't end there either. Some states only provide 24 hours of bonding time with the newborn, while others may provide for 48 or 72 hours. Only 10 states have programs that allow mothers to stay with the newborns beyond 72 hours, with New York being the most generous, allowing up to four years. Despite solid medical evidence that allowing newborns and mothers to have continued contact benefits both mother and child, most states do not have nursery programs, nor the means to provide childcare.

Unfortunately, despite the policies and duties that are in place, all too often, due to the deliberate indifference of correctional officers or prison administration, inmate pregnancies can go horribly wrong.

A Culture of Deliberate Indifference

A wrongful death lawsuit filed in the Federal Eastern District Court of Wisconsin on the day before Christmas Eve alleges that prison guards in the state mocked a pregnant inmate who had gone into labor in her cell. After the inmate screamed out for help, explaining that her water had broken and she had gone into labor, the guards refused to provide her any assistance. The suit further alleges that her infant died within a few hours of birth due to the lack of medical attention.

While the infant's death is shocking on its own, it becomes even more-so knowing that the mother was incarcerated the week prior to giving birth because she refused to vacate a motel room while over 30 weeks pregnant. Furthermore, prior to going into labor, she had been moved out of the special needs wing and into the maximum-security wing, without proper medical clearance.

While an incarcerated mother might not want to read the above tale of tragedy, as it is not the norm, being aware of what can go wrong is the first step in avoiding it.

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