Pregnant Women Jailed Here for Drugs Have Only One Way Out

They're kept behind bars in Etowah County, Ala., unless they go to rehab, pay $10K
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 11, 2022 1:05 PM CDT
At This Prison, Pregnant Women Held Under 'Special Conditions'
Prisoners crowd windows in the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Ala., on Dec. 3, 2011.   (Sarah Dudik/The Gadsden Times via AP)

Multiple pregnant women or new moms are behind bars in an Alabama prison after being arrested for drug use, and they're being kept there for "weeks or months" on end under "special conditions," per AL.com. The outlet reports that the women involved, accused of exposing their fetuses to drugs, aren't allowed to bond out of the Etowah County Detention Center unless they go to rehab and fork over $10,000—a requirement that National Advocates for Pregnant Women calls "unconstitutional." The nonprofit tweeted Wednesday that about a dozen pregnant or postpartum women are currently thought to be imprisoned at the center under "harsh conditions," and that the drug treatment is mandated even if the women aren't at the level where they need it, and even if there aren't enough available beds in the program.

The NAPW says the jailed women are separated from their new babies—interrupting critical bonding time—and other children they may have at home, as well as banned from seeing visitors and receiving "little to no medical, postpartum, or mental health care." In addition to the lack of proper care, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins, cites "poor diets, poor sanitation, infestations with bugs and vermin, poor ventilation, tension, noise, lack of privacy, [and] lack of family and community contact," per an affidavit cited by AL.com. County officials push back by claiming that the women need help for their substance abuse, and that keeping them under lock and key ensures the safety of their other kids, as well as that of the community at large.

The nonprofit Marshall Project reports on how Alabama has long targeted mothers in its fight against drugs, leading the nation in arrests of pregnant women who use and serving up consequences "as severe as those for murder, rape, or kidnapping." It notes that if the babies of these women are born healthy, the women could see up to 10 years in prison, but it's even worse if the pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth: In those cases, the sentence stretches to a possible 99 years. The group notes that research remains murky on how drug use during pregnancy affects fetuses. "[Drugs] could possibly play a role ... [but] it's really complicated," says Gregory Davis, Jefferson County's chief coroner. AL.com reports that the detention center spokesperson wouldn't confirm how many pregnant and postpartum women are currently at the prison. More here and here on some of the women affected. (Read more pregnant women stories.)

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