Just because a woman is convicted of a crime doesn’t mean her reproductive system suddenly shuts down. And in fact, many women end up behind bars while pregnant. What happens next will vary depending on the specific circumstances and wishes of the mother-to-be, but one thing that’s always true is that California provides a much higher standard of care for incarcerated pregnant women and new mothers than most other states.
Care for Pregnant Women
First, it’s worth noting that most women are out of custody pending resolution of their case while pregnant. They are generally not incarcerated until after they have been convicted of a crime. Until the woman is convicted or acquitted, courts and prosecutors generally want to institute monitoring and treatment programs for women with substance abuse and/or mental health problems.
California law allows incarcerated pregnant women to choose whether they wish to continue the pregnancy or abort the fetus. Those who choose to have an abortion do not need to worry about funding the procedure unless they are in a federal facility. All state facilities will cover the expenses related to an abortion. That being said, while the doctor, nurses and Family Services Coordinator cannot coerce someone to have an abortion, they are also not legally required to bring up the topic. Additionally, incarcerated women are subject to the same abortion deadlines as any other women, meaning they can only have an abortion after the 24th week of gestation if the pregnancy puts their life in danger.
Those who choose to go forward with the pregnancy are entitled to additional medical care throughout the gestation period, including prenatal visits, tests and necessary ultrasounds. The mother-to-be will also be given a Comprehensive Accommodation Chrono, which will allow her a lower bunk, along with daily prenatal vitamins and two extra servings of milk, vegetables and fruit per day. Pregnant woman cannot be put in solitary confinement and are not required to drop to the ground when an alarm sounds (though they must sit). They also may not be handcuffed behind their back, chained across their midsection or put in leg restraints. If medical providers state that a pregnant inmate cannot safely be restrained, then she cannot be restrained at all.
Giving Birth Behind Bars?
As for the actual birth itself, whenever possible, women will be transported to an offsite hospital and not be required to give birth in the prison or jail. Of course, in practice this is sometimes impossible as some women have notably fast deliveries. Even in these cases though, the prisoner will be able to undergo post-partum treatment in an outside hospital facility.
What Happens to the Baby?
Well, that is largely up to the mother. Many incarcerated women choose to give their child up for adoption or have a loved one care for the child until they are later released. But if a mother wishes to stay with her child, she may if she qualifies for the Community Prisoner Mother Program (CPMP). This program allows mothers to move to a special facility where they can stay with their children until the children reach six years of age or the mother is released from custody.
In order to qualify for the CPMP, an inmate must be a non-serious and non-violent offender that is not facing any new felony charges and has not made any escape attempts. Additionally, the mother must obtain mental health, physical health and dental clearances before being approved for the program.
In some cases, new mothers may also qualify for alternative sentencing that will allow them to spend their sentence on house arrest in their own home with their children and the rest of their family. Obviously this is the best possible option for both the mother and her children, but this option is not available to everyone.
If you have been charged with a crime and are pregnant, it is important to discuss your options with your defense attorney. Please call (760) 643-4050 To schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.