A woman was forced to give birth alone in a cell: Diana Sanchez, Tianna Laboy, Kenzi Dunn

In one week in December, two stories of women being forced to give birth alone in prison or jail cells collided. In Connecticut, a court decided that the case of Tianna Laboy, who, while held at the York Correctional Institution, was forced to give birth to her baby in the toilet of her prison cell. That occurred February 13, 2018. In the same week the Connecticut court made the decision concerning Tianna Laboy’s case, another court, in Florida, heard the case of Kenzi Dunn, who was forced to give birth alone in a cell in the Osceola County Jail.  Tianna Laboy’s baby survived. Kenzi Dunn miscarried. This is how the year ends; this is how the decade ends. Across the United States, pregnant women in prison and jails routinely suffer programmatic neglect and abuse. Diana Sanchez was forced to give birth, alone, in the Denver County Jail, July 2018. The list goes on: Tammy Jackson, Broward County, Florida; Jessica Preston, Macomb County, Michigan. Nicole Guerrero, Wichita County, TexasAutumn Miller, Dawson State Jail, Dallas, Texas. These are only the names we know. There is no national data base concerning prison or jail births … because, really, who cares?

When Diana Sanchez was booked, she was eight months pregnant, in early stages of labor, and had a history that suggested high-risk pregnancy and a good chance of early delivery. Diana Sanchez went into hours long labor, screamed for help, and no one cameStaff stood outside her cell, nurses watched on video and refused to help. Diana Sanchez reflected, “That pain was indescribable, and what hurts me more though is the fact that nobody cared.” What hurts me more is the fact that nobody cared.

Tianna Laboy’s experience echoes that of Diana Sanchez. She informed authorities she was pregnant. Staff did nothing or less than nothing. Tianna Laboy walked the halls in pain, begged for help, cried out in pain. No one came. Sitting on a toilet in her cell, she gave birth to a child. The child hit her head on the toilet. Tianna Laboy pulled the infant out. Her cellmate told her to pat the child on the back. She did and her daughter started breathing. Other than her cellmate, Tianna Laboy received less than no care. That was last year. It’s not clear if anything has been done at the prison to correct this situation … because, really, who cares?

Kenzi Dunn’s story is basically the same. When she was booked into the Osceola County Jail in October, Kenzi Dunn discovered she was pregnant. On Wednesday, December 4, Kenzi Dunn started bleeding, asked for help, begged for help, screamed for help, and none came. Kenzi Dunn continued to bleed. She didn’t see a doctor until Friday. On Saturday, bleeding and suffering cramps, Kenzi Dunn miscarried. On Monday, she was taken to the hospital. Upon release from the hospital, Kenzi Dunn was taken back to the same cell and had a day added to her sentence, to make up for the day she spent in the hospital. The following week, Kenzi Dunn was released two weeks “early”. Kenzi Dunn summed her experiences succinctly, “It was torture”.

Across the United States, in the name of justice and security, women are being forced to give birth alone in prison and jail cells. Women are being forced to bear their children into toilets or onto floors. Women are being forced to bleed for days on end, while assistance stands inches away and refuses to budge. Nobody cares. It’s torture. 

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy)

In Western Australia, Bandyup Women’s Prison is still (akin to) torture. Shut it down!

Inside Bandyup Women’s Prison

On December 12, Neil Morgan, the Inspector of Custodial Services for Western Australia, released a scathing report summary, benignly entitled The birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison in March 2018. Just in time for Christmas, the report tells the story of Amy (not her real name) who gave birth, alone in a cell, at Bandyup Women’s Prison, the only women’s prison in Western Australia. The Inspector’s media release on the report opens: “The Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, has voiced serious concerns about a birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison on 11 March 2018. Despite pleading for help multiple times for over an hour, a woman (‘Amy’) gave birth alone in a locked cell at 7.40pm. Staff observed events through a hatch in the cell door, but the door was not unlocked for several minutes after the birth.

On releasing a summary of his report into the birth, Mr Morgan said: `I wanted to know how such an event could occur in a 21st Century Australian prison and to prevent it happening again.’” What do we imagine a 21stCentury prison, Australian or otherwise, is, and especially for women? Bandyup Women’s Prison has been known as a hellhole for years, and yet … there it is.

Here is Amy’s story, reduced to a timeline. At 5:30, Amy made a cell call, saying she was in labor. She was taken Bandyup Health Centre. The nurses were not told of the cell call. So, they gave her paracetamol, or acetaminophen, and sent her back to her cell. At 6 pm, the prison went into night lock down. At 6:30, Amy made a number of cell calls. She sounded distressed and said she was in labor. Custodial staff came to the door, and talked to Amy, through the door. Amy became increasingly distressed. Nursing staff arrived around 7:35, a full hour later. According to the Inspector’s report, “By this time, Amy’s distress was palpable, and she clearly needed help. However, the nursing staff could only assess her through the locked cell door, because the only person with cell keys was a senior staff member in the gatehouse.” At 7:40, alone, in a cramped cell, Amy gave birth: “Excessive delays continued even after Amy had delivered her child. Due to poor record keeping, we cannot put a precise time on it, but it took somewhere between seven and 12 minutes before the officer from the gatehouse arrived with the keys, and the cell door was opened. This finally allowed assistance to be provided. Amy and her baby were transferred to hospital that evening.”

Why was Amy in prison? The Inspector’s report begins: “On 30 January 2018, a woman we will call ‘Amy’ appeared in court. She was in the late stages of pregnancy and was granted bail subject to a number of conditions. However, she was unable to meet the conditions and was taken to the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility (Melaleuca). On 17 February 2018, Amy was moved to Bandyup Women’s Prison (Bandyup).” Amy was in prison because she couldn’t pull together enough money to post bail. 

Why was Amy in prison? Amy is an Indigenous woman, living in Australia. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population. Amy is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia. Western Australia has the highest imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia and boasts the highest rates of Indigenous prisoners awaiting trial

Bandyup Women’s Prison has been acknowledged, for years, as a hellhole. In 2015, it was the most overcrowded prison in Western Australia, famous for an Indigenous woman’s death in custodygross mismanagement of vulnerable individuals and populations, sponsoring a culture of despair, and worse. In 2015, Neil Morgan, the same Neil Morgan, issued a damning report. Three years later, the State is shocked to discover the conditions of the 21stCentury Australian prison. The time for inspections,reports, shock and discovery is over. How many more women must give birth, alone, in a filthy cramped cell, simply because they can’t pay the exit fee? How many more Indigenous women must suffer torture and death behind bars for having committed the crime of being-Indigenous-woman? How many more Amy’s? Close Bandyup Women’s Prison today. Shut it down!

(Photo credit: The West Australian)