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Could this baby’s death have been prevented?

Jul 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Ellis County, In The News, Lead Article

WFAA TV- Tragic jail birth prompts question: Could baby’s death have been prevented?

In this new story from WFAA, top notch reporting reveals what happened to Shaye Bear as well as poor medical care for many pregnant inmates in Texas county jails. Tanya Eiserer and her team also expose punitive attitudes and blatant lies by Ellis County. The work of Texas Jail Project and observations from TJP’s director Diana Claitor provide context. Claitor commented that one serious problem is that many officers’  first reaction to an inmate’s complaints is that anything she says is a lie. But if the case of a pregnant inmate, another life is at stake if the jailer’s wrong, she said.

“They’re not always lying,” she said, referring to pregnant women.

Claitor says she’s received at least three complaints about the Ellis County jail – all of them involving pregnant inmates. Eiserer goes on to discuss how many women suffer in jails without any accountability.

Wichita County Jail Fails a Mother and Child

By Diana Claitor and Burke Butler, Dallas Morning News, June 26, 2014

A federal lawsuit in Wichita Falls shines a spotlight on a dramatic example of how the opportunity for life-saving medical intervention is often missed in county jails. When she was five months pregnant, Nicole Guerrero went into labor, called out for help from the Wichita Falls County Jail’s staff and was ignored. Ultimately, the opportunity to intervene was missed and her child was lost.

On June 2, 2012, the Wichita Falls Police Department arrested Nicole for violating her probation. Nine days later, she started experiencing back pain and cramps, and noticed that blood and other fluids were coming out of her vagina. In response to Nicole’s cries for help, officers escorted her to the nurse’s station around 6:30 p.m. The nurse listened to the baby’s heartbeat, said it sounded fine, and sent Nicole back to her cell.

By 11:00 p.m. that night, Guerrero knew something was terribly wrong. As she started experiencing contractions, she frantically pushed the medical emergency button in her cell, over and over again. The nurses didn’t check on her for hours, until 3:30 a.m. Yet again, they ignored her distress and took her to the “cage”—what her attorney described as a solitary confinement cell—unfolding a mat over the floor for her to lie on. Jailers typically call these medical separation cells. Nicole gave birth there, alone, to a baby who was dark purple, its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck.

This is the story that Nicole Guerrero tells in her federal lawsuit, filed in May in the Northern District of Texas, alleging that Wichita County violated her rights under the United States Constitution. Her story may sound unbelievable, but unfortunately, those of us who are advocates for people held in local jails can believe it. At Texas Jail Project, we have had former inmates and loved ones report poor nutrition, improper housing, neglect, and lack of medical care, includinga videotaped first hand account of unassisted labor and delivery in the Taylor County Jail—luckily, that woman’s son survived. On texasjailproject.org, Diane Wilson, the group’s co-founder, retells the story shared by a traumatized young woman whose baby died in an ambulance after being delivered at the Victoria County Jail with no assistance. Because of those and other reports emailed and called in since 2007, TJP was instrumental in the passage of two bills requiring medical care and banning shackling of inmates in labor.

However, the laws and the standards subsequently passed by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards did not prevent inhumane treatment of Guerrero nor did it prevent her child from dying. Policies, practices, and attitudes in county jails need to change to stop mistreatment of women and prevent deaths of infants being born there. In fact, the first responsibility of jails’ medical units is to see that the births occur in the hospital, not the jail.

The Wichita County jail and all county jails can ensure proper care of pregnant inmates by following a simple rule: If the woman appears to be in labor and reports that she is in labor, she should be transported to the emergency department of the local hospital. Period. Secondly, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which provides the training and accreditation of Texas jailers, should add information on supervising pregnant inmates to the Basic Jailer Training curriculum. Finally, we ask those two agencies as well as the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas to encourage officers and medical providers to reevaluate their attitudes toward pregnant women in their custody. It may be possible for them to coordinate with officers of the court who can find suggest programs and alternatives to jail, especially during pretrial incarceration.

We should never allow another opportunity for intervention to pass us by as happened in Wichita County, when the lack of responsible medical action was the difference between life and death for Nicole Guerrero’s child.

Diana Claitor is Executive Director of the Texas Jail Project. Burke Butler is an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project.




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