Tammy Jackson was ushered into an empty jail cell by sheriffs. Then one morning, she was there with someone else: her newborn baby.
According to a letter dated May 3, written by Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein, the full-term 34-year-old with a mental illness began complaining to officers about contractions around 3 a.m., April 10, the Miami Herald first reported.
More than four hours later, members of the sheriff’s office spoke to the on-call doctor, who said “he would check when he arrived,” according to Finkelstein. And when the physician clocked in, he did.
That was around 10 a.m.
For the seven preceding hours, Jackson was locked in a jail cell, alone. She was bleeding, in labor, and then forced to birth her baby on her own — conduct which Finkelstein called “outrageous” and “inhumane” treatment.
“It is unconscionable that any woman, particularly a mentally ill woman, would be abandoned in her cell to deliver her own baby,” he wrote in the scathing letter to the Sheriff’s Office. Although Jackson and the baby are both healthy, he wrote, “Not only was Ms. Jackson’s health callously ignored, the life of her child was also put at grave risk.”
Finkelstein says Jackson was obviously pregnant and the child came at-term — something the Sheriff’s Office would have known, given that they placed her in infirmary care specifically so she could receive proper medical attention. After her arrest a month earlier, Jackson was placed on medical monitoring for the pregnancy, precluding the possibility that those charged with her custody — employees of the Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Jail — were unaware.
When Jackson began contractions and called for help, guards did not take her to a hospital, where she could have given birth safely. Instead, they attempted to contact an on-call doctor. It took four hours for guards to reach the doctor, Finkelstein said, and then it took the doctor another hour and a half to get to the jail. In all, it took 6 hours and 45 minutes for Jackson and her newborn to receive care after initially asking for help.
“Medical records indicate her baby was born at term; the birth was not premature or unexpected,” Finkelstein wrote. “Yet in her time of extreme need and vulnerability, [Broward Sheriff’s Office] neglected to provide Ms. Jackson with the assistance and medical care all mothers need and deserve.”
The North Broward Bureau, where Jackson was held, is a “special needs detention facility” that houses “mentally ill, medically infirm and special needs” inmates among its 1,200 person population, according to its website.
Prison births have been scrutinized in recent months. The First Step Act, the criminal justice-reform bill that Congress approved in December, addresses the use of restraints on prisoners during birth. Several states have similarly begun revising their policies surrounding the use of solitary confinement and handcuffs during pregnancy and labor.
Finkelstein demanded an “immediate review of the medical and isolation practices in place in all detention facilities."
High-ranking politicians have also voiced disgust over Jackson’s treatment.
“This is outrageous,” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted on Monday. “Prison officials must be held accountable after leaving Ms. Jackson alone without medical assistance for six hours as she gave birth.”
The Washington Post could not independently reach a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Office or North Broward Bureau for comment, however the Herald reported that the Sheriff’s Office’s internal affairs unit launched an investigation into Jackson’s treatment.