U.S. Prisons and Jails Are Threatening the Lives of Pregnant Women and Babies

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From In These Times:

At 5 a.m. on June 12, 2012, lying on a mat in a locked jail cell, without a doctor, Nicole Guerrero gave birth.

Guerrero was eight-and-a half months pregnant when she arrived 10 days earlier at Texas’ Wichita County Jail. The medical malpractice lawsuit Guerrero has filed—against the county, the jail’s healthcare contractor, Correctional Healthcare Management, and one of the jail’s nurses, LaDonna Anderson—claims she began experiencing lower back pain, cramps, heavy vaginal discharge and bleeding on June 11. The nurse on duty told her there was no cause for concern until she had bled through two sanitary napkins. Several painful hours later, Guerrero pushed the medical emergency button in her cell.

At 3:30 a.m., more than four hours later, Guerrero was finally taken to the nurse’s station. Guerrero says she showed Anderson her used sanitary pads filled with blood and fluids, but was not examined. Instead, she was taken to a one-person holding cell with no toilet, sink or emergency call button, known as the “cage.” At 5 a.m., her water broke. She called out to Anderson, but, Guerrero says, Anderson refused to check on her. Shortly after, Guerrero felt her daughter’s head breach. A passing guard stopped to assist her, and Guerrero, unable to keep from pushing, gave birth on a blood and pus-covered mattress.

The baby was dark purple and unresponsive, with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. When Anderson arrived minutes later, she did not attempt to revive the baby, Guerrero says. The EMTs got there after 20 minutes and rushed the baby to the hospital. Guerrero remained in the cage, where she delivered the placenta. At 6:30 a.m., the baby was pronounced dead.

No data, no problem

The number of women who cycle through U.S. jails is increasing by approximately 1.6 percent each year, to 109,100 in 2014, while the number of women in prisons has risen nearly tenfold in the past 40 years, to 111,300 in 2013. Though the United States accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s women, it has 33 percent of the world’s women prisoners.

There is no current data on how many of those women are pregnant. In 2004, a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found that 3 percent of women in federal prisons and 4 percent of those in state prisons were pregnant upon arrival. The statistics on pregnancy in local jails is older—a 2002 survey found that 5 percent of women entered local jails pregnant. At those rates, approximately 9,430 pregnant women are incarcerated annually. Read more of Vikki Law’s article.