Many prisons had a difficult time keeping people safe during the COVID-19 crisis, but one Alabama jail kept a young woman in jail to protect her fetus.
Ashley Banks was arrested with an unregistered gun and a small amount of marijuana. Normally she would be let out on bond awaiting trial, but because she was pregnant and admitted to drug use, Etowah County put her in jail for three months, AL.com reported. She's already at a high risk due to a family history of miscarriages.
"She’s not the only one, according to attorneys involved in her case," the report explained. "Several pregnant women and new moms accused of exposing their fetuses to drugs have been held for weeks or months inside the Etowah County Detention Center under special bond conditions that require rehab and $10,000 cash."
Rehab facilities aren't cheap and if women are being forced to fork over $10,000 and pay for rehab, there aren't a lot of options. In Banks' case, she didn't qualify for rehab from the state.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women is speaking out on the jailing. But thanks to the Etowah County policy, several women are being held both prior to birth and after they give birth against the advice of experts and at the detriment of the fetus or baby.
“The stress and conditions in jail and prisons, including lack of consistent access to standard prenatal care and mental health care, poor diets, poor sanitation, infestations with bugs and vermin, poor ventilation, tension, noise, lack of privacy, lack of family and community contact, can be detrimental to physical and mental health which can result in poor pregnancy outcomes for both the mother and the baby,” wrote Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB/GYN, an expert on incarceration and pregnancy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Court documents show Banks has already been rushed to the hospital during her incarceration because she started bleeding and was diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma, where blood pools near the wall of the uterus. It can increase her chances of a miscarriage and preterm delivery, the report explained.
The jail responded by letting her sleep on the bottom bunk. There were already two women assigned to sleep in it, however, so Banks was forced to sleep on the floor. She was bleeding for five weeks while behind bars.
The report said that Banks suffered from fainting spells and hunger while in jail, putting added stress on the fetus.
Banks' lawyers told her that investigators suggested should exaggerate a drug addiction so she wouldn't have to "bond out."
"Ms. Banks is currently incarcerated indefinitely because the State will not accept her $10,000.00 cash bail and she does not qualify for a residential drug treatment,” the court petition says.
Finally, on Aug. 25 the judge released her to community corrections. One substance abuse treatment provider told the paper that they're urging judges not to require rehab for people who don't have substance abuse problems. There aren't enough beds as there is.
Another woman is protesting her incarceration after testing positive for methamphetamines while giving birth. She is protesting the drug test saying that there was a false positive triggered by medication she was taking for her sinuses. A jury hasn't reviewed the evidence, but she has been in jail while her baby sits in the NICU and her husband cares for their two young children.
"Emma Roth, an attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said several other women should also be released from the Etowah County Detention Center. Researchers for NAPW have tracked more than 150 chemical endangerment cases involving women in Etowah County since 2010," said the report.
Alabama has a so-called "personhood" statute that was enacted in May 2019. Since Alabama considers an embryo or fetus to be a "person" it could put Etowah County in the position of facing many wrongful death suits if women miscarry while in prison due to the conditions.
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