Report: Woman’s pleas for help ignored while giving birth in Fla. jail

The Broward County jail is seen Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The Broward County jail is seen Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Credit: Tribune News Service

Credit: Tribune News Service

A female inmate screaming for help in her jail cell in Broward County, Florida, was forced to give birth alone, ignored by jail staff standing outside her cell until after her son was born, according to the Broward Public Defender’s Office.

The jail birth took place Sept. 27, nearly three months after the state enacted the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women law, which puts safeguards in place preventing pregnant women being in restrictive or isolated cells during their detention.

Jackson gave birth alone in a jail cell in April 2019, drawing outrage from Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and inspiring the new law, which passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously in March.

That appeared to have little effect on the 28-year-old pregnant Boca Raton woman who was brought into custody on a burglary charge in early September. According to Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes, the woman was pregnant “and also suffering from acute mental illness” when she was brought in.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is not naming the woman to protect the identity of the baby boy, who is now in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. The woman was ordered released without bond on Sept. 29, two days after the child’s birth.

“She should have been kept in close monitoring by medical staff the entire length of her pregnancy or her incarceration,” said Weekes.

According to an arrest report, the woman was accused of staying illegally in a Lighthouse Point home for a week while the owner was out of state. The owner called police, who went to arrest the woman Sept. 6. She resisted by kicking at the officers and rolling on the ground, according to the report, which makes no mention of the woman’s pregnancy.

Days after her arrest, after officials knew she was pregnant, the woman got into an altercation with detention deputies and was pepper-sprayed, Weekes said.

The woman began complaining of pain and contractions Sept. 27, Weekes said in a letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony.

“She was left alone in her cell while she was clearly screaming in pain,” he wrote. “Rather than make the appropriate health-related decisions to medically treat a mentally ill patient in crisis and tend to the needs of her unborn child, detention staff administered no medical assistance and merely stood idly by observing her pain from outside her cell.”

A request for comment from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county jails, had not been returned as of mid-Thursday morning.

In Other News