Pregnant Women in Texas County Jails
December 1, 2018
Each month Texas county jails tally the number of pregnant inmates and report that to the Jail Commission. Some are only held there a few days, but others may be incarcerated for weeks and months and a number will deliver their babies in local hospitals while in custody.
Each month, each jail is required to report the number of pregnant women they booked in or found to be pregnant to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Usually the tally runs from 300 to 400. While some women are only held there a few days, others may be incarcerated for weeks and months, and a small percentage will deliver their babies while in the custody of that county jail.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards posts the number each month on its website. Click here and look at the last item on the list.
November 1st, 2018, the number reported from all the jails was 349. That was the total of all those who were pregnant when booked into county jails.*
If your daughter, wife, sister or mom is one of those women, you want her to have the best possible care. If you yourself experienced being pregnant in a county jail, Texas Jail Project wants to know how you were treated and what the conditions were like. CONTACT US (or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and let us know what you experienced in jail and how your baby is today!
*We recently determined that the Jail Commission was not having jails tally the number of women who discover they are pregnant AFTER being booked; that situation, which has resulted in years of undercounting, is being corrected.
Two laws* were passed in 2009: one requiring healthy conditions and nutrition and medical care for pregnant inmates, and the second restricting the use of restraints on women in labor, childbirth, or post natal. But women have complained about lack of medical care and other problems, and we have discovered that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has not been promoting the improved standards for care of pregnant women or we could not find out if inspectors are checking to see if women are reporting being shackled during childbirth.
In 2015, we worked on another successful bill. It required the Jail Commission to send a questionnaire to each jail asking for details of food, medical care, and conditions for pregnant inmates.It was important to ask these questions because jails (and prisons) were originally designed around the needs and habits of men, not women, and certainly not pregnant women. TCJS issued a report about the findings in late 2016. From the jail questionnaires, we learned that nutrition and medical care was all over the map, and some jails reported no ob/gyn was available at all.
We know a lot of people don’t know where to report the problems and others who are afraid to report. We may be able to help right then; if it’s in the past we can tell your story. If you like, we can record what happened without your name being involved. Also, please let us know about any jail where a pregnant woman receives good care!
*HB 3653 bans shackling of women during labor and delivery in Texas jails, with an exception for dangerous circumstances.
HB 3654 requires Texas jails establish basic standards and report on pregnant inmates through the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
SB 3654 Addresses the Current Lack of Information. As of 2009, there were are 247 jails in Texas housing roughly 13,000 women, inspected by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and run with taxpayer dollars. The Justice Department estimated about 5% of female prisoners are pregnant while incarcerated, giving Texas an estimated 650 pregnant inmates in county jails at any one time. This bill was the first to require reporting that allows Texas jails and policymakers to tailor policy to address the health of incarcerated pregnant mothers and their children.
Shackling complicates childbirth, risking the health of the child. On June 12, 2007, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated in a letter supporting a federal ban on shackling: “[p]hysical restraints have interfered with the ability of physicians to safely practice medicine by reducing their ability to assess and evaluate the physical condition of the mother and the fetus, and have similarly made the labor and delivery process more difficult that is needs to be; thus, overall putting the health and lives of the women and unborn children at risk.” The federal Bureau of Prisons recently adopted standards banning shackling during labor and delivery, with exceptions for extreme situations. Illinois banned the use of shackling in 2000. In response to a lawsuit by an inmate shackled during delivery, Arkansas recently reduced the use of shackling in state policy.
Specific Standards for Pregnant Inmates Are Necessary to Ensure Healthy Birth Outcomes. The 247 county jails in Texas have a wide array of expertise in the health needs of pregnant inmates. Small jails may have a registered nurse or other health professional who is not a medical doctor monitoring the health of inmates. Given the wide variety of facilities and expertise, state-wide standards are necessary to ensure the best possible outcomes for infants.