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Pregnant Women Were Jailed: Why Does a Mother Have to Stay in Jail to Save Her Embryo?

Pregnant women are often detained for extended amounts of time at a single Alabama jail to keep their unborn children drug-free.

Several dozens of pregnant women who took drugs have been arrested and charged with crimes. As a result of the Roe v. Wade decision being reversed, experts anticipate an increase in the number of lawsuits. That is a big reason of Pregnant women were jailed.

How Pregnant women started going to Prison.

Police captured Ashley Banks on May 25 with a small amount of marijuana and a firearm without permission to carry.

The 23-year-old woman from Gadsden would have been allowed to post bail and leave jail pending her criminal trial if the conditions had been different. However, Banks acknowledged using cannabis on the day she learned she was pregnant, two days before her arrest. She was jailed for three months in Etowah County because she couldn’t get out unless she went to drug treatment.

Associated lawyers argued she is not alone. Etowah County Detention Center has been home to several pregnant women and new mothers who have been jailed for weeks or months on charges of exposing their fetuses to narcotics, with extraordinary bail terms requiring rehabilitation and $10,000 cash.

Legal professionals affiliated with National Advocates for Pregnant Women argue that pregnant women who have not been convicted of a crime should not be subjected to different rules than other citizens.

Despite the advice of maternal and fetal health professionals, the Etowah County Detention Center routinely houses many pregnant and recently delivered women. Specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an authority on imprisonment and pregnancy, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, submitted an affidavit to the court pleading for Banks’ release.

Sufrin wrote, “the stress and conditions in jail and prisons can be detrimental to physical and mental health, which can result in poor pregnancy outcomes for both the mother and the baby.” These conditions include a lack of access to consistent standard prenatal care and mental health care, poor diets, poor sanitation, infestations with bugs and vermin, poor ventilation, tension, noise, lack of privacy, and lack of family and community contact.

A history of miscarriages in Banks’ family puts her pregnancy in jeopardy. She was around six weeks into her pregnancy, so she took her to jail. After being locked up for almost six weeks, she allegedly began bleeding and had to be brought to Gadsden Regional Medical Center. The attending medical staff identified her condition in which blood collects close to the uterine wall (subchorionic hematoma).

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the illness can lead to an increase in miscarriage and premature birth. Banks said that jail staff advised her she could use the lower bunk due to the dangers of her pregnancy. On the other hand, there was only one bottom bunk in her cell, and two other ladies were allocated there. According to the court papers, Banks slept on the floor while the other lady occupied the bed.

There, she bled for another five weeks while she was locked up. She also complained of frequent episodes of weakness and hunger. Two times, doctors tested her for drug addiction and decided she didn’t qualify for free addiction treatments given via the state. Banks was allegedly pressured by investigators, according to her attorneys, into lying about her drug use so that she might avoid posting bond.

“Ms. According to the petition, Banks will remain in jail indefinitely since the state refused to grant her $10,000.00 cash bail, and she does not meet the requirements for inpatient drug treatment.

She slept on the jail floor until August 25, when a judge in Etowah County released her to community corrections even though her bond terms needed rehabilitation, and rehabilitation centers had turned her down.

According to Chris Regan, the director of a drug misuse treatment facility Aletheia House, they frequently have beds for pregnant women and mothers. But he said that judges shouldn’t mandate therapy for women who don’t have an addiction.

They should enter a drug rehab suitable for their degree of dependency, as stated by Retan. “Only those with severe mental health issues should enter residential therapy.”

Estimating how many expectant or new mothers are housed in the Etowah County Detention Center is problematic. Before August was out, Roth reported hearing that number might reach 12. AL.com uncovered seven pregnant or postpartum women in a recent study of the prison record who had been detained at some time between April and August. When asked how many pregnant and recently delivered women were being held in the facility, a spokesperson gave no information.

Attorney Emma Roth of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women has advocated for the release of many other women from the Etowah County Detention Center. Since 2010, NAPW researchers have cataloged over 150 incidents of chemical endangerment against women in Etowah County.

The mother of two, Hali Burns, was taken into custody just six days after giving birth to her second child. Methamphetamine and Subutex were found in Burns’ system during pregnancy and used to treat pregnant women with opiate use disorder.

Burns is disputing the legitimacy of those drug tests. Her attorneys stated sinus medicine generated false-positive findings for methamphetamine and that she had a prescription for Subutex. Prosecutors in Etowah County have denied these allegations, but a court or jury has yet to review the evidence.

More than two months have passed since Burns’ arrest occurred, and she is still unable to visit her baby boy in the NICU. The emotional toll of the split was too much for her boyfriend, Craig Battles, to bear as he spoke about it. The man expressed concern for Burns and his kids.

“I don’t know what I have done wrong, but my daughter continues asking me why she can’t come home,” said Battles.

Experts believe it might be especially challenging to fulfill the unique medical requirements of women who have just given birth while incarcerated. Battles said he tried to bring pads and underwear to the jail for Burns so she wouldn’t have to worry about getting blood all over her clothes but was informed he couldn’t.

She was “fresh from the hospital” when she entered the jail, as stated by Battles. She’d just given birth and didn’t even have diapers or pads. She tried to staunch the bleeding by shoving toilet paper or paper towels down her trousers.

According to Roth, children might be punished if their mothers are denied the right to go home while they await trial.

Roth argued that separating children from their families, both new and old, maybe traumatic. The purpose of bonds in the judicial system is neither to aid nor to penalize defendants.

Pregnant women were jailed
Pregnant women were jailed

At an August 18 hearing in Burns’ case, her lawyers claimed that bail is solely designed to safeguard the public and assure that offenders attend the trial. Mandating therapy in these situations does not serve either aim, said her attorney, Morgan Cunningham.

“I have reckless murder instances where offenders have been freed on bond,” Cunningham added. “Requiring her to go to treatment is not Legally valid.”

Etowah County Deputy District Attorney Carol Griffith said the bond requirements safeguard Burns’ children from the harm caused by parental drug misuse. She reminded out that Burns had already gone through drug court and had just failed a drug test performed within the jail. She had been slated to go to treatment but had to remain in jail after testing positive, according to court filings.

“That is more proof that this is a person who severely needs the support we are delivering here today,” Griffith added.

Etowah County Circuit Court Judge Sonny Steen, on August 19, refused the motion for Burns’ release.

“The objective of bail in any criminal matter is not just to assure a Defendant’s attendance at trial, but also to safeguard the community,” Steen said in his ruling. “The court has to consider the safety of the children and others within our society. It is indisputable that the petitioner requires substance addiction treatment; she would have been placed in such treatment facility on August 18, 2022, except for her positive drug tests the day prior.”

Martin Weinberg, a Birmingham attorney, and Burns’s other legal counsel have stated that Burns’s children are safe under the care of the Department of Human Resources and with a relative and that they would not be harmed if she were sent home.

Additionally, Weinberg claimed that the availability of narcotics in the jail, along with her grief about being away from her loved ones, made for a potentially deadly circumstance.

Weinberg stated, “There is an issue with the jail.” The prison environment is dangerous for her.

North Carolina maternal-fetal medicine expert Dr. Hytham Imseis said in an affidavit that the weeks after giving birth are crucial for bonding between mothers and newborns and that separating them during this time can have disastrous effects on both.

Postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, and psychosis are more likely to develop when women are separated from their newborns, as stated by Imseis. A mother’s premature separation from her kid can have long-lasting effects on her child’s growth and development. Those who are separated from their families are at a higher risk for drug abuse and imprisonment, have a lower IQ, and have a more challenging time establishing stable relationships.


Six weeks after giving birth is considered the postpartum phase. According to the World Health Organization, most maternal and baby fatalities occur during this period, making it the most crucial time in their health. Hormonal shifts occur in women after delivery, exacerbating postpartum mood disorders, including melancholy and agitation.

Prof. Sufrin of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Johns Hopkins University has studied the outcomes of pregnancies among incarcerated women and found that 20% of them end in miscarriage. In contrast, this number is between 10% and 15% in the general population (as reported by the March of Dimes). Sufrin also noted an increase from the national average in the prevalence of premature births.

The policy might result in far more severe penalties if a medical emergency occurs while a pregnant inmate is in custody. Women who take drugs during pregnancy can face criminal charges and up to 99 years in jail in Alabama. This includes miscarriage and stillbirth.

According to the website, the Prison is staffed by local providers and Doctors’ Care Physicians around the clock, seven days a week, under a contract with the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office.

According to an email from Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Josh Morgan, an arrestee for chemical endangerment is assessed by medical professionals upon arrival at the Etowah County Detention Center. When that is done, they are sent to obstetricians for further care. After scheduling appointments, deputies will accompany the inmates to their scheduled meetings.

Still, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has urged for the release of pregnant and postpartum women in Prison in 2021 owing to the danger of COVID, and the majority of medical professionals advise against legislation that punishes drug use during pregnancy.

Daniel B. King, a local attorney, claimed the facility was unsafe for pregnant women. He’s been given the case of a new mom who’s been suspected of drug usage.

He then said, “If she is pregnant, she has no business being in that jail.”

In 2021, Brittney Pickard was sent to jail less than a week after giving birth because her baby had tested positive for marijuana. Pickard claims that she sobbed when an investigator from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Department told her that she was being taken into custody.

Pickard said, “I was still going through postpartum.” The wound is still open. There were still sutures in place.”

Apparently, the nurses were quite lovely. Although the pads she required for her bleeding were eventually delivered, she said she never received pain medicine for the discomfort she was experiencing in her midsection. She was also allowed to take private showers and wear shorts under her prison uniform. Five days later, rather than face up to 10 years in Prison for the felony accusation, she opted to join drug court.

“I didn’t feel like I had any other choice,” Pickard said.”

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