In 2009, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Jail Project (TJP) worked with state legislators to pass laws protecting pregnant inmates and babies born to incarcerated mothers. Our follow-up research shows those reforms have failed in several respects.
In a previous blog, the ACLU of Texas discussed challenges facing jails seeking to implement the Shackling Ban passed into state law in 2009. Along with reforms to the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during transport, labor and delivery, in 2009 the Texas legislature passed laws requiring standardized procedures for jail policies relevant to pregnant inmates. Texas jails are now required to create specific policies for pregnant inmates ensuring appropriate medical care, mental health care, nutritional standards, and housing and work assignments. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) is to maintain records of these policies and ensure county jails comply with their internal policies.
While researching the implementation of this state law in the six largest county jails in Texas, we found a host of concerns remain, including:
- A lack of consistency, specificity and expertise in Texas’ most populous jails;
- A failure to address mental health care needs of pregnant inmates;
- Widely varying standards for prenatal nutrition;
- Inattention to special housing needs; and
- A lack of clarity regarding work assignments for pregnant inmates.
The lack of consistency, specificity and expertise in county jails breaks down to 5 specific areas of jail policy. First, jails in Bexar County and El Paso County conduct immediate pregnancy screening at intake for female inmates, a practice other jails should consider adopting. Second, some jails do not have clear policies regarding how long a pregnant inmate must wait to receive obstetric care following initial booking and intake into the jail. Third, some jails do not have policies related to follow-up prenatal care. Fourth, there is wide variation in policies addressing high risk pregnancies. Fifth, the El Paso jail has a few simple measures in place for dealing with emergency pregnancy care that should be considered by other jails.
The ACLU of Texas recommends empowering TCJS to assist county jails in creating strong and specific policies that ensure consistently appropriate care for pregnant inmates across the state. TCJS should be encouraged to review internal jail policies relevant to pregnant inmates, conduct interviews of pregnant inmates during jail inspections, and generally review the quality of medical care available to pregnant inmates. Jails should be required to set specific timelines for screening, provide for ongoing care, and enact measures to ensure staff know how to handle emergency situations and high-risk pregnancies. TCJS should work with jails to ensure appropriate mental health care is available to pregnant inmates. And, finally, nutritional, housing and work assignment policies should be standardized in jails across the state.
These common sense updates to current jail policies would ensure the health of women and children incarcerated in Texas jails and would reduce the legal liability such jails currently face because of weak or unclear policies related to pregnant inmates. Wanna help? Tell the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to implement the ACLU of Texas’ recommendations.