What Happens When a Pregnant Woman Goes to Jail? You Might Be Surprised

A woman is arrested.  She is taken to the jail for booking.  If she knows she is pregnant, this is put into the computer.  In a few days, they will do a pregnancy test to see if she is.  There are many times they are not and the woman says this to hopefully take more time to hopefully get bailed out or to be able to get more food to eat since they are automatly put the woman on a prenatal diet. 

Believe it or not many times the woman does not know she is pregnant, even if she is around 6 months.  We have seen this in our work.  If the inmate is still in jail two weeks after being booked, just like all inmates, they are given a full medical exam.  That is when many girls find out they are pregnant and have had no prenatal care at all.  And for many who knew they were pregnant and did not have any prenatal care before they were arrested, it is in jail they are put on prenatal vitamins or starts having a diet that is approved for someone who is pregnant giving them more calcium and protein. 

Where do you put a pregnant woman in jail? They are kept with the general population.  This is where many of them have their first information about pregnancy because of talking to the other women.  But we have also seen many women that this is their 10th pregnancy/6th birth.  When asked what the name and ages of their children, many women have a very hard time answering this question – they just can’t remember.  This is difficult to watch and pulls at our heart.

What if the pregnant inmate is addicted and on drugs?  She is kept in the medical section of the jail.  This is because they are kept on a methadone program or another type of drug program.   If the inmate were to go “cold turkey” off of the drugs she is addicted to, it would kill her baby.

I remember an inmate I met for the first time.  She was in the medical section of the jail due to being addicted to drugs.  While talking to her, she told me about the last time she was pregnant. She went off her drugs as soon as she found out.  She did not know the effect if would have on the baby.  Her baby died.   She thought she was doing the right thing.  My heart went out to her. 

In most jails, they are taken to a doctor (this is not her OB Dr.) to regulate the appropriate drug they need to keep her on for the heath of the baby.  And yes, the baby is born addicted to the drug. 

They are scheduled to see an OB/GYN on a regular basis just as women would see a doctor on the outside.  What is hard to understand is that many of the girls refuse their doctor visits. 

For most jails, they are kept on the ground tier if the pod is 2 stories.  Also, they are given the bottom bunk.  At some point in their pregnancy, if the jail is not over crowded, which is rare, they are given an extra mattress and an extra pillow.

When she goes into labor, and lets the deputy know, she is sent to the medical section.  At that point, it is determined if there is time for a deputy to drive her or do they call the EMT to take her. 

For our program, this is when they call us to let us know an inmate has been transferred to the hospital and we leave to meet her and the deputy there.

If the jail does not have a doula program, the only person she will have in her room besides hospital staff is a deputy that stays with her 24/7.

She makes her own decision to go natural or medicated.  This may sound strange, but we see more natural births at the jail than we see with our clients on the outside.  Also, after baby is born, she can spend all of the time with the baby while she is in the hospital.  Her stay in the hospital is decided by her OB/GYN.  It is usually 48 hours for a vaginal and 72 for a cesarean birth.  For some of the babies, they are taken straight to NICU because of either issues of not having prenatal care and the lifestyle they chose before being arrested or because the baby is addicted to drugs.  The mother can go and visit the baby as much as she wants.

Is it ever okay to cry in jail?  I look forward to sharing my opinion with you in my next blog.  Meanwhile go towww.birthbeindbars.com website and www.facebook.com/birthbehindbars and discover more stories.

****Disclaimer: This blog is from the perspective of a jail, not a Sate or Federal prison.  Protocol will vary from initiation to institution.