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Jailers Must Report on Pregnant Inmates

Jan 21st, 2010 | Category: McLennan County, Women and Jails

Monday, September 28, 2009, Waco Tribune

New state regulations that went into effect this month regarding the treatment of inmates who are pregnant or have mental health issues mostly boil down to paperwork that local corrections officials say they already do.

“Most of it is just an extra (box on a form) or item to keep track of and document,” said Randy Plemons, chief deputy of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s just more paperwork.”

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is in the process of revising its minimum jail standards to comply with a new bill from the Texas Legislature to better track the population and treatment of pregnant or mentally ill inmates statewide. The most sweeping changes include:

* Jails must report to the commission monthly the number of pregnant inmates. Each detention center must submit a health care plan to the commission detailing its care of pregnant inmates.

* Pregnant inmates must not be shackled while in labor unless they exhibit a substantial likelihood of escape or there is significant risk of harm to the inmate, a medical professional, law enforcement officer or member of the public.

* A sheriff’s office also must call a jail magistrate within 72 hours if an inmate exhibits signs of mental illness, and the magistrate must order a mental health evaluation to determine whether treatment is needed.

* The jail also must inform the commission within 24 hours of an inmate’s death and the subsequent results of an investigation of the death. The jails initially only had to notify the Texas attorney general.

Though the commission will not formally adopt the changes to its minimum jail standards until November, sheriff’s offices and law enforcement agencies had to be in compliance by Sept. 1, when the legislation took effect.

Plemons said the sheriff’s office does not have a practice of shackling inmates who are in labor. And he said the procedures mandated for dealing with mentally ill inmates have been practiced at the jail for more than a decade.

Diana Spiller, a research specialist for the jail commission, said that while jails have been required to have inmates with mental health issues evaluated within 72 hours of booking, the jail commission did not have oversight to ensure that facilities complied.

Mike Wilson, warden for Community Education Center’s private jail in downtown Waco, agreed that the new laws mostly amount to paperwork.

“These new guidelines are mainly to formalize our reporting processes and track our procedures and standardize these things across the state so that everybody is doing things very close to the same way,” Wilson said.

One new thing that the downtown jail has started doing is offering an over-the-counter pregnancy test to all female inmates when they are booked into the downtown jail.

“Sometimes we will have female inmates who may not know that they are pregnant because they have only recently become pregnant and are in the early stages,” Wilson said, adding that the jail only gets about six pregnant inmates per year. “This is just something that will help us better identify our pregnant inmates to make sure they receive the care that they need.”

Both facilities have submitted their respective health care plans for dealing with inmates’ prenatal care. Wilson and Plemons said those health care costs will likely not rise locally.

rdennis@wacotrib.com

757-5755

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