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The Demonizing of a Pregnant Inmate

Aug 7th, 2013 | Category: Lead Article, Nacogdoches County

The director of Texas Jail Project spoke about an inmate in a statement before the Texas Commission on Jail Standards last week at their quarterly meeting. Since then Cathryn Windham, already in a fragile state, is receiving more bad treatment and condemnation. After she was visited by a counselor August 5th, her mother reports that Cathyryn was put in a seclusion cell and told: “We have proof you’ve have not even been to an OB/GYN before being incarcerated.” She was so upset that she went into labor and had to be hospitalized.

The staff in the jail needs to stop the tactics of intimidation. By the way, Kathryn had visited her OB/GYN for her high risk pregnancy, and Mrs. Windham actually has “proof” of that.

Diana Claitor’s statement at the TCJS meeting in Austin:

“Good morning Judge Klaeger, commissioners, especially the new commissioner, and Director Wood:

As director of Texas Jail Project I pay a lot of attention to complaints and reports of poor conditions but am happy to get a good report now and then. A young man emailed me about his pregnant fiancée:

“Teresa is doing good. She is at 16 weeks now. The Hood County staff has taken care of her.  She has been to the doctor for a check up a few times since we last spoke. She has seen an OBGYN three times.  She has also had blood work done twice and has also had a wisdom tooth pulled. Teresa was prescribed antibiotics and prenatal vitamins. She had a sonogram done but we do not know the gender yet.”

I checked our extensive database of emails. Couldn’t find one complaint about Hood County in about five years.

Recently we even heard from a jailer. An RN in charge of medical care for a jail with more than 600 inmates wrote an essay about her mission and what she expects of inmates; we put it on the Texas Jail Project website, without naming her or her county. She doesn’t mince words:

DO NOT LIE TO ME. Do not tell me you do not do drugs or drink, if you actually do. I am asking so I can provide medical care. I cannot help you and give you proper treatment if you do not tell me. Your honest answers to my questions may save your life.”

This RN doesn’t see Texas Jail Project and our postings as malicious or harmful, as do some sheriffs departments. She says: I have been following your site for over a year now and appreciate the work you do to protect inmates and their families. There have been a number of times I have printed stories from yr website to give copies to my staff to remind them of the things we do not want to do and reinforce the things we are doing right.”

This dedicated nurse said that she was trying to make sure there was never a death in custody on her watch. She also described the protocol for pregnant inmates, which involved checkups and exams. She is following both the letter and spirit of the law passed in 2009, HB 3654, which says that jails must provide pregnant inmates with medical and mental health care and meet their nutritional, housing and other needs. There is no exception or waiver for inmates disapproved of. Everyone, even those who are seen as imperfect mothers-to-be. But we are seeing how that kind of judgmental attitude affects inmate care, especially when it comes down to a female who is pregnant.

Consider the case of Catherine Windham who is currently incarcerated in the Nacogdoches jail. Pre-trial, convicted of nothing but accused of many things. All of which may not even be true. This college graduate has a long-documented history of mental illness. I suggest the jail, sheriff, and county are failing her by not recognizing that mental disorders combined with pregnancy are a complicated business, and not necessarily deserving of punishment.

In responding to complaints, the TCJS inspector reported to Windham’s mother that he found that the jail had done nothing wrong in answering to complaints about a lack of medical care, since “previously,” she had refused care. Is the refusal of care in the past by someone with mental disorders reason to deny care after that? It appears more likely that jail did not want to pay for a specialist in high risk pregnancy, but after lawyers, mothers, and inspectors showed up asking questions, the jail suddenly found a way to get her to the necessary OB/GYN.

I did not see any attempt by TCJS to address the threats described by both Catherine and her mother, a law-abiding schoolteacher: “Shut up or she’ll get more charges.”

Accusations like this can be explained away or even ignored. I am well aware the Jail Commission has very specific mandate to only examine certain aspects of conditions of confinement.

However, medical care of pregnant inmates falls under a standard. So why wasn’t that complaint taken seriously?

From a legalistic standpoint, it should have been since there is a pattern emerging in Nacogdoches: just last year even the Texas Rangers found the jail so lacking they charged them as responsible for the death of Edwinta Deckard and two jailers were indicted for criminally negligent homicide due to lack of medical care.

The Nacogdoches jail is not alone however; evidently quite a few counties don’t even address pregnant inmates in their medical plans, according to a soon to be published study by a law student. And in the past 6 weeks, we have gotten pleas for help with pregnant inmates in Wood, Montgomery, and Ellis counties; in the past, we’ve had many pleas about Bexar county jail’s treatment of pregnant inmates with addiction or mental problems.

We have approximately 500 pregnant inmates counted each month in Texas county jails, and even if you discount that for frequent fliers, that means more than 5000 babies a year are at risk.

Back to the RN who wrote us an essay: no complaints from that county in six years! So it can be done, if the will is there, and if jailers and sheriffs take personal responsibility for all the inmates in their care, especially those who are carrying an unborn child inside them–another human being whose future can be irrevocably changed by what happens to the mother inside that jail.”


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1 Comment
Virginia Raymond
9 years ago

Habeas corpus?