Another baby dies in government custody. This time in an England where prison guards ignored a pregnant mother and let her suffer for 12 hours! Before coming in to take the dead baby the young mother had just given birth to by herself, alone in a prison cell.
I saw a report from Sophia Ankel at Insider this morning about an18 year-old inmate who tragically lost her baby in HMP Bronzefield (womens prison) in Ashford Middlesex, England. Unfortunately, the United States is no better and is often the model that other countries follow. Everyone hates us but they want to be like us.
The United States healthcare system is a uniquely complex system made of both private and public sectors. From an international perspective, The United States spends more than any other country on healthcare though we do not necessarily have the best healthcare delivery system. The Department for Professional Employees (DPE) 2016 Fact Sheet shows though the US has the best doctors in the world, but that the treatment in the U.S. is inequitable, overspecialized, and neglects primary and preventative care. The result is that American’s health care is poor in comparison to other advanced industrialized nations. References for my latest healthcare research topics can be found here.
Thinking again about this young woman and her baby I have to wonder how does the United States healthcare system and prison system compare with England’s? England invests less than the United States, but English people have a better healthcare system than America. England may in some cases even treat prisoners better than the U.S. does. The United States can be barbaric at times. I hate to admit that.
NHS (England’s Department of Health) never offered the young mother counseling, but the department did help the guards that failed to help the young woman which is not unusual here in the states for either of the department agencies. About 50% of U.S. inmates suffer from mental disorders prior to entering the prison system, and U.S. prison conditions are reportedly more inhumane than any third world country. Often American prisoners develop mental disorders because of the abuse they suffer at the hands of the United States Department of Justice.
The Guardian reports that the woman called for help three times during labor, and that none of the guards came to help her. They said the “vulnerable woman, identified only as Ms A, was ignored by prison guards despite multiple calls for help as she went into labor in her jail cell at HMP Bronzefield in Middlesex, England, on September 26, 2019”.
A prison watchdog said “the teenager gave birth completely on her own and was found in her bed cradling her dead baby 12 hours after calling her cell bell. The woman described being in constant pain during this ordeal, even passing out and waking up again only to find that her daughter had died. She bit through the umbilical cord and tried to clean the blood out of her cell”.
Still, according to The Guardian, the young mother was never offered counseling or any type of care. “Police and coroner involvement immediately after Baby A’s death, and a lack of understanding by the prison of the role of the local child death review team, meant Ms. A did not receive the routine bereavement and practical support that would normally be provided”.
Counselors were sent to offer support to the guards that allowed the mother to suffer and the baby to die. They still work at the prison. BBC reports that Vicky Robinson, the prison director stated, “This was tragic and extremely sad. We are deeply sorry that this has happened, and our thoughts throughout have been with the family”.
Reading about this case this morning made my heart hurt. I can’t imagine what that vulnerable mother is going through, and in a cell where no one can offer support or care. It is just unthinkable that it even happens in modern day societies.
Lori Yearwood, a contributing editor at the Economic Hardship Reporting Project says that Currently, 23 states do not have laws against shackling of incarcerated pregnant women, and that despite a federal law that prohibits the shackling of expectant mothers, that 85% of incarcerated women who are in state prisons or county jails often remain at the mercy of guards.
Sophia Casias shuffled across the floor at the Bexar county adult detention center in San Antonio, Texas, on March 2017 seven months pregnant, hands cuffed and feet bound, as a guard stood in front of her, holding the chain connected to her handcuffs.
“Casias couldn’t keep her balance though and crumpled on to the wet cement floor. She sobbed and felt as if she couldn’t breathe. She would later realize that she had felt the same way when multiple family members sexually assaulted her as a child”.
Casias recounted that after she fell “a female guard grabbed me by the hair and was making me get up. She was screaming: ‘Bitch, get up.’ Then she said, ‘That is what happens when you are a fucking junkie. You shouldn’t be using drugs or you wouldn’t be in here.”
Lori Yearwood says that the recently enacted federal legislation such as the Prison Policy Initiative of 2018 and the First Step Act of 2018, that are meant to prohibit the most punitive measures against prisoners, including shackling of pregnant women is not enough and that “85% of incarcerated women in America are still at the mercy of the guards who can choose exactly how to control their every movement – as well as the movement of their unborn children”.
Lorie Goshin, associate professor at Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York and the lead investigator of a recent study about the treatment of incarcerated pregnant women says that “We dehumanize this group of women to such an extent that we don’t see how wrong this is….. just how unnecessary and cruel it is”.
The practice of shackling pregnant women during birth also violates the 2010 United Nations rule that “instruments of restraint shall never be used … during labour, during birth and immediately after birth”.
Despite laws, guards are in charge and probably do not even know about the laws. Not-for-profits distribute pamphlets to inmates and in support groups, but who educates the people in charge? To make matters even worse, the federal government does not require prisons or jails to collect data on pregnancy and childbirth among female inmates.
Rhode Island is the only state that has what is called “a private right of action”, an enforcement mechanism allowing the illegally shackled woman to sue for monetary compensation.
A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association addresses the acute psychological trauma that shackling inflicts saying, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma”.
Terry Kupers, MD, a psychiatrist and the author of the book Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, implores staff “to be very careful that we do not re-traumatize them. Because re-traumatization makes conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder much worse….Women who get locked up, tend on average to have suffered many more childhood traumas”.
Amy Ard, executive director of Motherhood Beyond Bars, a Georgia not-for-profit worries, “if I am someone who needs to be chained, how can I expect to also see myself as someone capable of protecting my child?”
A former inmate at the California Institute for Women in Corona, Harriette Davis, now 64 and an anti-shackling advocate remembers herself being handcuffed to a hospital bed before giving birth to her daughter 36 years ago. The attending doctor told the guard to remove the shackles, Davis says, so that Davis could move freely, helping her baby travel more easily down the birth canal. “She’s not going anywhere,” Davis says the doctor assured the guard. She said the guard finally removed the shackles just before her baby was born.
Davis bursts into tears as she speaks by telephone from her home in Berkeley, California. “It’s inhuman and it’s not necessary and it’s emotionally and mentally unhealthy”.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, with Louisiana and California having the most incarcerated people. According to data from the 2019 Sentencing Report, black women are almost twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women. Advocates say they are making modest progress.
Danielle Edwards, a former Georgia prisoner says that she was taken to and from court hearings and doctor appointments shackled, including leg irons and handcuffs. To prevent the metal around her ankles from cutting into her skin, Edwards wore two pairs of socks. Shackling terrified her.
“It’s all very confining, uncomfortable and cold,” she says. “And it’s scary because when your feet have that limited mobility, you don’t know if you are going to misstep and fall on your stomach.”
She says that at eight months pregnant, standing in front of a judge, a sinking feeling overtook her. She pleaded with the judge to send her to rehab instead of prison so that she could keep her baby after birth.
“And I’m standing there in shackles and once I asked him for that chance he said: ‘Do you actually think I am going to let you walk out of this courtroom? Absolutely not.”