Pregnant Women in Texas County Jails

Introduction

Each month, all county jails are required to report the number of pregnant women booked in or found to be pregnant to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). That tally then appears on the TCJS website under “Population Reports.” Usually the tally runs from 300 to 400. While some women are only held in jail a few days, others may be incarcerated for weeks and months, and a small percentage will deliver their babies while in the custody of the jail.

If your daughter, wife, sister or mom is one of those women, you want her to have the best possible care. Leave a phone message for us at (512) 469-7665 or email us at info@texasjailproject.org if you believe your loved one is not receiving proper medical care and/or nutrition, or if you have questions about navigating the justice system. Also you can directly complain to the Jail Commission. Our website has info and a link to the online form where you can report concerns and complaints.

If you yourself have experienced being pregnant in a county jail, Texas Jail Project wants to know about the conditions and any problems you might have had or observed.

We know that some people don’t know where to report the problems and others who are afraid to report. We are glad to listen and will also tell your story, if you grant us permission. We can also record what happened without your name being involved. Also, please let us know about any jail where a pregnant woman receives good health care and is treated well!

Our Legislative Work on Behalf of Pregnant Inmates

2009

  • 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. In 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.

2015

  • HB 1140 – 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, like prisons, were originally designed around the needs and habits of men, not women, and certainly not pregnant women.

2016

  • HB 1140 Report to the Texas Legislature – Texas Commission on Jail Standards issued a report about the answers to the questionnaire in late 2016. Among all the information gathered, the answers revealed that nutrition and medical care was varied, including the fact that in some county jails, there was no access to an ob/gyn or any medical personnel trained in high risk pregnancies.

2017

  • HB 1314 – PR Bond for Pregnant Inmates – authored by Rep. Celia Israel, this bill requires a county magistrate (judge) to release a pregnant inmate on a personal bond instead of cash bail, unless there is good cause.

    Rep. Celia Israel with Texas Jail Project founders and supporters at 10th Anniversary Celebration

Information for Media

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards posts a monthly tally of pregnant inmates on its website. Click here and look at the last item on the list. As of December 1, 2018, the number of pregant women booked into all Texas jails during November was 314.

Texas Jail Project proposed the first laws addressing care of pregnant inmates in 2008 because of outcries from the public about poor treatment. At that point, there was no acknowledgement of the needs of pregnant inmates in the jail standards. TJP contacted Rep. Marisa Marquez and brought witnesses to the legislature to speak about their experiences. and in 2009, the laws were passed and signed by the governor. One required healthy conditions and nutrition and medical care for pregnant inmates, and the second restricting the use of restraints on women during labor, childbirth, or post natal.

While awareness and conditions have improved, pregnant women continue to complain about lack of medical care and inadequate food, and we have discovered that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has not always monitored standards for improved care of pregnant women and in other cases, we were unable to discover whether inspectors interviewed women after childbirth to find out if they were shackled.

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.

More specific standards for pregnant inmates are necessary to ensure healthy birth outcomes. The 241* county jails in Texas have a wide array of expertise in the health needs of pregnant inmates. In many jails, pregnant inmates don’t have access to a obstetrician/gynecologist. In many others, there is not even a physician available, but an RN or other health professional provides all medical care to all inmates. There is not even one set formulary of medicines, so access to specific medicine is not guaranteed. More state-wide standards could ensure the better outcomes for infants and mothers.

*as of Jan. 1, 2019

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