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Judge overrules NM prison ban on breast-feeding

Prison officials said there are security concerns in allowing a female inmate to breast-feed her infant during regular visiting hours

By Maggie Shepard
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State prison officials have failed to convince a Santa Fe judge there are overriding security concerns in allowing an Albuquerque woman housed at the Grants women’s prison to breast-feed her infant daughter during regular visiting hours.

First Judicial District Judge David Thomson in Santa Fe ruled Friday at that the prison’s worries over breast-feeding weren’t enough to outweigh inmate Monique Hidalgo’s right to feed her baby. Prison officials testified they are concerned that Hidalgo might smuggle in contraband if she nurses her infant under a cover or might offend visitors or guards – possibly triggering an official complaint – if nursing uncovered.

That basically results in a ban that disadvantages Hidalgo and could likely be found to be unconstitutional, Thomson said in his oral ruling granting Hidalgo’s demands while the case proceeds to trial. He said that because the case is “an issue of great public importance,” if the Department of Corrections decides to appeal, it can do so immediately and not wait until trial.

DOC attorneys would not say if they plan to appeal the ruling, and they would not allow Adult Prison Division Director German Franco, who testified about the security concerns, to answer questions following the ruling.

Franco had testified that Hidalgo, who is in prison until possibly early next year after a handful of failures to comply with probation on charges of drug possession and trafficking, testified positive for opioid treatment drugs, which are sometimes used illicitly, in the days after she returned to Grants on June 8 from the hospital after giving birth.

DOC attorney Deborah Wells said DOC officials believe the positive test was due to contraband and thus justified the department’s denial of breast-feeding for security reasons, in addition to concerns about the safety of the child who would be ingesting narcotics through its mother’s milk.

Physicians, however, testified that the positive drug test was more than likely residual medication administered to Hidalgo before she was released to the hospital and that her milk was safe for the child. Hidalgo’s medical team had instructed her breast-feed to help her child ween off opioid treatment drugs to which the baby had become addicted during Hidalgo’s medically prescribed treatment during pregnancy at the prison.

Hidalgo, supported by the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, sued the Department of Corrections on June 16 after prison officials prevented her from breast-feeding her infant during regular visiting hours – during which inmates are allowed to hold and hug their children and visitors. Hidalgo was also prevented from using an electronic breast pump, though she was allowed a less efficient manual pump, so she can store milk.

Hidalgo, whose fiance is caring for their now 5-week-old baby girl at his home in Los Lunas, was granted a temporary restraining order against the ban, and on Friday, after nearly two days of testimony, Thomson ruled to extend that order overriding the ban as the case continues to trial. A trial date has not been set.

Thomson said DOC should be commended for attempting to launch a pilot lactation project in which Hidalgo was participating. It allows women to manually pump and store milk, but it does not allow in-person breast-feeding. Franco testified that DOC does not plan to implement in-person breast-feeding as part of any lactation program.

Prison spokesman and policy director S.U. Mahesh said that at least six pregnant women are incarcerated in New Mexico prisons.


©2017 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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