Ohio inmate birth puts spotlight on pregnant women and their care

A birth last week brought focus on the issue of pregnant inmates and jails' responsibilities while in their care


Ed Richter
Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

HAMILTON, Ohio — A birth last week in the Butler County Jail brought focus to the issue of pregnant inmates and what responsibilities county jails and the state of Ohio’s prison system have in their care.

On June 10, a Butler County inmate being prepared for transport to the hospital went into labor and delivered a baby girl with the assistance of corrections officers and the jail medic before Hamilton paramedics arrived. The baby was delivered at 10:45 a.m., according to Sgt. Kim Peters, sheriff’s public information officer.

Peters said the inmate, who was incarcerated on a burglary charge out of Butler County Area III Court, was released about 4 p.m. on a recognizance bond by the court. She said the inmate’s medical costs were covered by the county up until her release. However, the county jail did not cover the expenses for the newborn after delivery.

It was the third delivery at the jail in the past five years, according to Sheriff Richard K. Jones.

Jones said the county doesn’t furlough inmates, adding that some pregnant inmates are sentenced to jail to save the babies. He said while they’re in jail, the pregnant inmates are signed up for pre-natal programs.

Two area counties have not had a birth in their jails and said they will work with local judges to have the pregnant inmate furloughed until the baby is born.

“We certainly never hope to actually deliver a baby here, but that does not mean it cannot happen of course,” said Chief Deputy Barry Riley of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

He estimated the sheriff’s office has been part of the process for an inmate delivering a child in at least four cases in the last five years, but none have ever been delivered at the jail.

Riley said there is no policy on this because each case is so very different. He said the county works as a team, the corrections officers, transport deputies, children services, medical providers and the sentencing judge, because the treatment and delivery plan is specific to the person.

“And it is always our intention to seek a furlough, but if that is not possible, we stay with the inmate and they remain in custody until released from the hospital, he said.

In Greene County, there have not been any babies born in the jail.

“We haven’t had that experience,” said Maj. Kirk Keller, Greene County jail administrator. “Our medical staff works with the court and medical providers. We’ve been able to target this so that the babies are delivered at the hospital.”

While the pregnant inmates are incarcerated, Keller said officials provide the proper prenatal care because it’s about the life of the child.

“Most times, the judge furloughs the inmate until the baby is delivered,” he said.

Keller said Greene County has had as many as six pregnant inmates at one time at the jail and usually 12 to 24 pregnant inmates over the course of a year. In addition, the facility has special uniforms for pregnant inmates.

“We do all we can do to avoid accidents and be aware of what’s going on,” Keller said.

There are 28 pregnant inmates and seven babies in Ohio’s Achieving Baby Care Success nursery program, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s May 2019 inmate report.

The ODRC pregnancy coordinator counsels each pregnant inmate and provide counseling and assistance. That assistance includes prenatal evaluation, counseling and medical support; participation in the Ohio Reformatory for Women’s ABC’s Nursery Program, when it is available, and if criteria for participation are met; assist in planning placement of the unborn child and decisions regarding appropriate prenatal care; and lactation issues, according to the state policy. The inmate also receives counseling regarding options for elective termination of pregnancy at the inmate’s cost, unless it’s performed to preserve the life and health of the inmate.

If the child is born to an inmate, the correctional facility will not be listed as the place of birth, according to the state’s policy. The babies are delivered at The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, said JoEllen Smith, ODRC spokeswoman.

She said there have been 27 babies born in the state prison system this year with another due in August. A total of 71 babies were born in 2018 to incarcerated mothers, Smith said.

The ABC Nursery program at Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville allows certain incarcerated women and the children born to them while incarcerated to reside together while the mother serves her sentence. The inmate has to meet the criteria and have less than 36 months left on their sentence. This year, there have been three babies/mothers admitted to the nursery program.

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©2019 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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