A Statewide Review of Conditions for Pregnant Inmates in County Jails

Matt Simpson
Policy Strategist

 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.

Breaking Schools’ Rules: The Economic Impact of Dropping Out of School

Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

When a teenager drops out of high school, it is a personal and family tragedy. It is also a community tragedy that affects all Texans. Last week’s blog on the Breaking Schools’ Rules report reminded us that students who are disproportionately disciplined at school for relatively minor infractions are more likely to drop out of school, and are also more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system or incarcerated as an adult later in life.  Children of color and special needs students have a greater risk of ending up in one or all of the above situations. 

We learned last week that dropping out of school leads to higher incarceration rates. The economic and social impacts are substantial.  Under- and unemployed people contribute little to the economy or, worse, end up in prison, costing Texans an estimated  $50.19 per inmate per day.  In fact, a recent study by the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service estimated that dropouts from the senior class of 2012 will cost Texas between $6 and $10.7 billion, over their lifetimes. 

And, dropouts who don’t end up in prison still end up contributing much less to the economy.  In a recent Northeastern University report, the authors found that “[s]lightly less than 46 percent of the nation’s young high school dropouts were employed on average during 2008.” This unemployment rate is “22 percentage points below that of high school graduates.” In terms of earnings, the high unemployment rate for dropouts translates to mean annual earnings of just $8,358 in 2007, compared to $14,600 for high school graduates with no post-secondary schooling and $24,800 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

This should be a wake-up call to all Texans. For the sake of our future, we must work to keep youth in school.  School discipline, over-reliant on ticketing and suspension for relatively minor misbehavior, is pushing far too many kids out of school and into the juvenile justice system.  The ACLU of Texas will continue to work with legislators and with local advocates to address the disproportionate and counterproductive impacts of school discipline.  If you are interested in working with us as we seek to change local and statewide discipline practices, join the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network  (CAN) and get involved in our efforts to reform school disciplinary practices.

Enforce existing law to stop bullying

By Frank Knaack
Policy and Advocacy Strategist

The Senate Education Committee heard testimony today on three bills seeking to address the serious issue of bullying in Texas schools. The testimony included the tragic stories of three kids who committed suicide after undergoing years of bullying at their schools. The victim’s parents testified that they followed procedure – they had gone to their kids’ schools and asked the schools to intervene … to stop the bullying. Their calls for help were ignored.

The testimony we heard today from these parents matches what the ACLU has been told by the victims of bullying for years … despite existing law prohibiting bullying in schools and existing law requiring the enforcement of that prohibition, the pleas for help at school are often ignored. The result is unacceptable.

The solution? We must hold school officials accountable when they fail to protect Texas’ children.

Of the bills currently under consideration by the Legislature, Senator Whitmire’s SB 205 comes closest to a real solution. SB 205 creates a clear statutory framework to ensure that district officials report, investigate, and respond appropriately to allegations of bullying or harassment. In addition, SB 205 requires that each school policy identify a school official responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented.

SB 205 will provide the process to help ensure that allegations of bullying and harassment are reported, investigated, and remedied in all Texas public schools. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to support SB 205. With your help, we can all make Texas schools a safe place!

Can I See Some ID, Please?

By Matt Simpson
ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist

Don’t Mess With Texas may have started as a slogan for an anti-littering campaign, but we adopted it as a badge of honor because it hit a nerve: no one hates being bossed around or intimidated more than a Texan.

This week, we are battling two very un-Texan bills in the legislature. House Bill 12 and Senate Bill 11 would let police officers stop you to ask about your immigration status. It’ll make it impossible for police chiefs and sheriffs to supervise their officers and will divert the energy cops should be putting into fighting crime into immigration witchhunts.

It will surely be a shock to our Texas way of life when, while we’re driving to work, walking to the park, or headed out of a football game, we’re stopped and questioned by police for no other reason than being there. “Did I do something wrong, officer?” If HB 12 and SB 11 became law, the answer will be, “It doesn’t matter.” Cops would be entitled to question us simply because we are out in public.

There is a third bill circulating – Senate Bill 9 – that is just as bad. Maybe worse because it would give cops the right to set up checkpoints to stop drivers and make them show driver’s licenses and insurance information. For no reason. Without probable cause.

Taken together, these bills mean cops could detain you – even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have no unpaid parking tickets, you were going the speed limit – until you’ve proven your immigration status and shown your vehicle registration papers. Throughout history, we’ve looked down at governments that wantonly stop their citizens and demand, “Papers, please.” We associate this kind of government intrusion with communist-era Russia or totalitarian regimes around the world, not with life in the United States of America, and certainly not in Texas.

These bills open the door to harassment based on a person’s skin color, spoken language, or national origin. Big cities will have their hands full trying to ensure that officers respect the legal and civil rights of residents. You could be questioned because of the way you look or talk. SB11 even extends to school officials and school cops, who could stop and interrogate students on their way to class.

Texas isn’t Arizona. And when it comes to laws like this, we don’t want to be. Texans don’t want or need a bill like Arizona’s SB 1070 that already has cost the state so much in image as well as untold numbers of dollars and cents.

This would create a number of problems: inconvenience and delay while sitting in a checkpoint line; wasting law enforcement’s precious time and resources; and assaulting the Constitution by making racial profiling the law of our land.

Being free to go about your daily business is a hallmark of democracy. Sometimes, the sweetest right is the one to be left alone.

The REAL Voting Problem in Texas

By Matt Simpson
Policy Strategist

Even though there’s no evidence of voter fraud at the polls, the governor included a Photo Voter Identification law as an emergency priority requiring immediate passage by the legislature. As the ACLU of Texas has said from the beginning, Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem.

There is, however, a real voting problem in Texas: turnout. We are ranked among the worst states in terms of voter participation. This fact stands in startling contrast to the current push for more stringent voting procedures which could further discourage voting, particularly by elderly and low income voters. That’s because requiring photo identification to vote means that the elderly and low income individuals, such as students who may not otherwise need a state-issued ID, must find a way to get to the Department of Public Safety offices and request such a document and pay for it. In some counties, DPS offices are far apart and difficult to reach. For some travel costs pose a financial burden as well as a logistical problem.

On Thursday, March 17, the State House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Photo Voter Identification Bill, known as SB 14. This Voter ID bill has been rushed through the Senate and through committee in the House. Now the full House will consider this proposal, the most stringent in the country.

We encourage you to contact your state legislators and communicate your concern about this proposal and the wrong direction this bill is taking our state. Texas should focus on the real issues with voting, such as our low participation. We should be encouraging full participation by all eligible voters, not creating new bureaucratic requirements that further undermine our already low voter turnout. The money spent implementing Voter ID (currently listed as $2 million but likely to be more) could be used to train Texans to assist individuals with voting or provide transportation to the polls.

Let’s identify solutions to our real problem, voter participation, rather than creating solutions for imaginary problems.

No Way to a GSA? What?

No Way to a GSA? What?

Oh come on, not again! One would think, after many court cases around the country that have affirmed the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), (see here and here, just to name a couple), that schools wouldn’t bother trying to shut them down anymore. Apparently the Flour Bluff Independent School District didn’t get the memo.

When student Nikki Peet approached her principal to request permission to start a GSA at Flour Bluff High School, he gave her the run around and eventually forbid her from forming her club. When faced with information that courts have established that GSAs can not be prohibited in schools that allow extracurricular clubs, the Flour Bluff ISD superintendent decided that she’d prohibit other clubs instead of allowing the GSA to form.

When the ACLU of Texas heard about this, we reached out to Nikki and decided to intervene. We sent a letter to the district educating it about the existing case law that establishes the rights that students have to operate GSAs, and unequivocally demanded that it reverse its policy and make sure that students and teachers will not face retaliation for their efforts to form a club or to stand up for their right to do so. (See the press release and letter here). If the district does not comply with our request, it may be facing legal action.

The ACLU of Texas has worked hard to protect the rights of GSAs, and we will continue to make sure that schools respect the laws of our nation. If you are familiar with similar situations in your city, contact us at info@aclutx.org and let us know or go to our website and file a legal complaint. If we don’t know, we can’t help.

If you want to form a GSA club at your school, check out these tips.