The plight of pregnant girls in prisons and jails

Matthew T. Mangino More content now USA TODAY NETWORK

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Pregnancy can be challenging for both mother and fetus in the best of circumstances. According to Johns Hopkins University, pregnant women are particularly susceptible to life-threatening complications if they are not closely monitored by a doctor.

Without close medical observation, conditions such as hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that can lead to significant weight loss, can occur; Gestational diabetes, which can cause the fetus to grow larger than normal and cause problems during childbirth; or preeclampsia, which causes dangerously high blood pressure, can harm or kill mother and child.

Now imagine a pregnancy in prison or jail. Imprisoned pregnant women are a vulnerable population with special needs. For example, national guidelines state that they should receive regular antenatal care, screening and diagnostic tests. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Bureau (GOA) noted that while the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have guidelines on pregnancy-related care, they do not always meet national guidelines.

Outside the prison walls, the government and private companies offer a variety of accommodations for pregnant women and parental women. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a federal act that protects pregnant workers and requires insured employers to make job-related changes for pregnant workers. The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on pregnancy, childbirth, or illness related to pregnancy or childbirth.

When a family is expecting a new child, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides equal leave for both mother and father. Both or both of the insured parents can take 12 weeks of leave for the birth of a newborn baby. If both parents work in positions covered by the FMLA, then both are eligible to leave the company. FMLA also offers vacation for pregnancy-related health reasons.

In prison, the government is not as generous when it comes to pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. According to the GOA report, while both the Marshals Service and BOP have guidelines for pregnant women, not all guidelines fully align with national guideline recommendations on 16 pregnancy-related care topics.

Women who are in the care of the Marshal Service are usually in custody. These inmates may be in federal facilities, but are more likely to be in state or local facilities where beds are rented by the federal government. The members of the BOP were sentenced to imprisonment.

GAO analysis of the available data shows that from 2017 to 2019 at least 1,220 pregnant women were in the care of the Marshals Service and 524 pregnant women were in BOP custody.

According to The Crime Report, national guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists call for special diets for pregnant women and, if necessary, psychiatric care, as well as other checkups and services.

According to the GOA, the Marshals Service guidelines only match three out of 16 nursing topics, and the BOP guidelines fully match eight out of 16 recommendations.

Prisons and prisons are not equipped to properly care for pregnant women. For example, pregnant women with mental health problems are advised to stop taking psychotropic drugs for bipolarity, anxiety, and depression. Obviously, the restriction exacerbates their condition. Intensive mental health therapy must stand in the void.

Particular dietary concerns such as seafood, undercooked foods, or improperly cleaned fruits and vegetables put women and their babies at risk. Proper admission examinations and assessments, prenatal and postpartum care, especially psychiatric care after separation from a newborn, can go a long way in protecting pregnant women and their newborns.

Pregnant women don’t belong in jails or jails, but until we get to a point where society can reach an alternative – intensive evaluation, observation, care and treatment are essential.

Matthew T. Mangino is a consultant to Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George PC. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was published by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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