Pregnancy

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State Patrol Officer Shoots Pregnant Woman During Spokane Drug Raid

Location: 
Spokane, WA
United States
A pregnant, unarmed woman was shot during a drug raid in Spokane and remains hospitalized as investigators piece together what happened in the county's third officer-involved shooting in four weeks.
Publication/Source: 
The News Tribune (WA)
URL: 
http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/09/25/1356027/state-patrol-officer-shoots-pregnant.html

Prosecution: Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Pregnant Women Cannot Be Criminalized for Drug Use

Women who take illegal drugs while pregnant cannot be charged with child endangerment crimes for doing so, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last Friday. The court held that such prosecutions are unlawful under the state's Maternal Health Act of 1992, which expressly forbids charging women with a crime if they drink or do drugs during pregnancy.

The case is Cochran v. Kentucky, in which Casey County prosecutors charged Ina Cochran with first-degree wanton endangerment after she gave birth to a child who tested positive for cocaine in 2005. Cochran's attorney moved to have the charges dismissed, and a Casey Circuit Court judge agreed, but prosecutors appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which held that the charges could be allowed.

The state Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals ruling, arguing that the appeals court had erred both because its decision was intolerably vague and because the Kentucky legislature had expressly held that pregnant women were not to be prosecuted for drug use. "It is the legislature, not the judiciary, that has the power to designate what is a crime," the opinion said.

In passing the Maternal Health Act of 1992, the legislature explicitly stated that "punitive actions taken against pregnant alcohol or substance abusers would create additional problems, including discouraging these individuals from seeking the essential prenatal care."

The high court cited a similar earlier case it had decided, and that quotation is worth repeating:

"The mother was a drug addict. But, for that matter, she could have been a pregnant alcoholic, causing fetal alcohol syndrome; or she could have been addicted to self abuse by smoking, or by abusing prescription painkillers, or over-the-counter medicine; or for that matter she could have been addicted to downhill skiing or some other sport creating serious risk of prenatal injury, risk which the mother wantonly disregarded as a matter of self-indulgence. What if a pregnant woman drives over the speed limit, or as a matter of vanity doesn't wear the prescription lenses she knows she needs to see the dangers of the road?

"The defense asks where do we draw the line on self-abuse by a pregnant woman that wantonly exposes to risk her unborn baby? The Commonwealth replies that the General Assembly probably intended to draw the line at conduct that qualifies as criminal, and then leave it to the prosecutor to decide when such conduct should be prosecuted as child abuse in addition to the crime actually committed.

"However, it is inflicting intentional or wanton injury upon the child that makes the conduct criminal under the child abuse statutes, not the criminality of the conduct per se. The Commonwealth's approach would exclude alcohol abuse, however devastating to the baby in the womb, unless the Commonwealth could prove an act of drunk driving; but it is the mother's alcoholism, not the act of driving that causes the fetal alcohol syndrome. The 'case-by-case' approach suggested by the Commonwealth is so arbitrary that, if the criminal child abuse statutes are construed to support it, the statutes transgress reasonably identifiable limits; they lack fair notice and violate constitutional due process limits against statutory vagueness."

Somebody ought to tell them in South Carolina, where the courts have upheld the prosecution and imprisonment of pregnant women who used drugs.

Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts Have to Say Part II

Time: 4 Hour Half Day Program Credits: Continuing Education Credits in the areas of Law, Social Work & CASAC Cost: Student Ticket- $25.00; Professional Ticket- $75.00. Professional ticket price based on credits/hour. **Financial Assistance Available!** For more information, contact: Aileen Dibra, Conference Coordinator, confcoordinator@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org Program: People working in the field of criminal law, family law and child welfare frequently have cases that involve issues of drug use. These lawyers, social workers, counselors, advocates and investigators, however, are often trying to do their jobs without the benefit of evidence-based research or access to experts knowledgeable about drugs, drug treatment and the relationship between drug use, pregnancy and parenting. On April 29, 2010 we will continue the education and conversations started at last year’s continuing education program, Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts Have to Say. PART II will provide the opportunity to meet and learn from new experts ready to address some of the questions left unanswered at last year’s event. Following last year’s program, many people raised the following question: In light of the evidence-based research regarding drugs, drug treatment and the relationship between drug use, pregnancy and parenting, what happens to the children who stay in the care of their mother's who used drugs during pregnancy and/or continue to be involved with drug use? What does the research tell us about these children? Based on this feedback, National Advocates for Pregnant Women in partnership with NYU is hosting a follow-up program to address this question. The dynamic program will feature nationally renowned researchers, social workers and legal experts, as well as people with direct experience who will help distinguish myth from fact, evidence-based information from media hype and provide meaningful tools for improved advocacy, representation, care and treatment. No matter what kind of work you do or practice you have, this course will challenge your assumptions, identify valuable resources and generate hope about families where drug use is an issue. The distinguished panel of speakers will include: Marylou Behnke, MD is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine in the Division of Neonatology and Co-Director of the North Central Early Steps, a part of Florida’s early intervention program. Dr. Behnke’s research focuses on the effects of perinatal risk, including medical, genetic, environmental, and psychosocial factors, on long-term outcomes for children. Dr. Behnke has served on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse, the Florida Medical Association Committee on Substance Abuse, and the Florida Pediatric Society Committee on Substance Abuse. She has served on numerous grant review committees for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Addiction Medicine, and is an ad hoc reviewer for numerous medical journals. Fonda Davis Eyler, PhD is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine in the Division of Neonatology and Co-Director of the North Central Early Steps Program. Dr. Eyler’s research focuses on the developmental effects of early and on-going risk factors, including prenatal drug exposure. She has served on state committees developing regulations regarding substance-exposed newborns, including the Drug Exposed Infants/Families Committee of the Governor’s Drug Policy Task Force. Dr. Eyler has reviewed numerous grants for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and manuscripts for professional journals. She has been actively involved in governance at the departmental, college and university levels. Dr. Eyler was recognized as a “Woman of Distinction” by the UF Association of Academic Women and a “Distinguished Psychologist” by the North Central Florida Psychological Association. Dr. Eyler and Dr. Behnke have been research partners since 1991. Together they have been awarded numerous grants to evaluate the long-term effects on children of maternal cocaine use during pregnancy. Their research, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, and the University of Florida, has focused on a longitudinal cohort of 308 prenatally cocaine-exposed and non-exposed children from rural Florida. Both Drs. Eyler and Behnke have received UF Research Professorship, Sustained Academic Excellence and Top Funded Researcher Awards, and their research has resulted in three dozen published research articles, as well as numerous abstracts and presentations. Martin F. Guggenheim, JD is the Boxer Family Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law. Professor Guggenheim has served as Director of Clinical and Advocacy Programs, Executive Director of Washington Square Legal Services, Inc., and for 15 years taught the Juvenile Rights Clinic in which students represented accused juvenile delinquents in New York’s Family Court. He later created the Family Defense Clinic, which represents parents and other adult relatives of children in foster care in New York City. One of the nation’s foremost experts on children’s rights and family law, Professor Guggenheim has argued leading cases on juvenile delinquency and termination of parental rights in the Supreme Court of the United States. He has published more than 40 book chapters and articles in leading law reviews in the United States, and is the author of five books on children and parents. His most recent book, What’s Wrong with Children’s Rights, was published by Harvard University Press in 2005. Carl L. Hart, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, and Director of the Residential Studies and Methamphetamine Research Laboratories at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. A major focus of his research is to understand complex interactions between drug abuse and the neurobiology and environmental factors that mediate human behavior and physiology. He is the author or co-author of dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology, co-author of the textbook Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior, and a member of an NIH review group. Dr. Hart was recently elected to Fellow status by the American Psychological Association (Division 28) for his outstanding contribution to the field of psychology, specifically psychopharmacology and substance abuse. In addition to his substantial research responsibilities, Dr. Hart teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and was recently awarded Columbia University's highest teaching award. Sabra Jackson is currently the coordinator for the city-wide Parent Advocate Network, a professional network within New York City designed to cultivate and formalize the role of the Parent Advocates in the child welfare system. This network was created through collaboration between The Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) and the Parent Advocate Initiative. Ms. Jackson also has the distinction of being the only Parent Advocate on the New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project in Albany. Ms. Jackson is a graduate of CWOP's 2005 East Harlem Parent Leadership Curriculum. She has worked with Voices of Women, a self-help advocacy organization for survivors of domestic violence, with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Parent Advisory Work Group, and was formerly a member of the ACS City-Wide Head Start Policy Council. Ms. Jackson has an understanding of child welfare policy and practice as both a client and a service provider. She is the proud single mother of two children: Sabra Inez (12yrs) and Peyton Ulysses (5yrs). Gretchen Lord, LCSW is an 18-year veteran of the Center for Family Life (CFL), an organization that has provided free comprehensive family support services to the residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for the past 31 years. Originally hired as a caseworker in CFL’s Neighborhood Foster Family Program, Ms. Lord currently serves as the Director of the Beacon Preventive Services program. In 2005, Ms. Lord initiated CFL’s ParentShip Program, which supports parents to improve parenting skills, and reduces social isolation by connecting parents and community resources. Ms. Lord provides both clinical and administrative supervision. The families she serves face difficult challenges such as family trauma, foster care placement, domestic violence, as well as issues involving drugs, alcohol and mental health. She has presented on CFL’s innovative programs, which have become blueprints for reorganizing the New York City foster care system, at national and international venues. Lynn M. Paltrow, JD is the Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. A graduate of Cornell University and New York University School of Law, Ms. Paltrow has served as a Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, Director of Special Litigation at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and Vice President for Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of New York City. Her honors include the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellowship, the Georgetown Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship, the Justice Gerald Le Dain Award for Achievement in the Field of Law and the 2008 National Women’s Health Network’s Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women's Health. Women’s E-news selected Ms. Paltrow as one of 21 Leaders for the 21st Century in 2005.
Date: 
Thu, 04/29/2010 - 12:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: 
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States

Pregnancy: Missouri Bill to Criminalize Drug Using Mothers-To-Be Faces Tough Scrutiny, Similar Tennessee Bills Die

A Missouri bill that would criminalize drug use by pregnant woman got a hearing Tuesday, but the reception was not very friendly. A pair of similar bills in Tennessee died on the vine this week.

In Missouri, Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah), author of the bill, SB 459, ran into a skeptical reception at the state Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon) got Lager to agree to an amendment that would block prosecution if the woman was seeking treatment, but that wasn't enough for Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City), who said the bill was unnecessary because there were already remedies for women who harmed their children.

Nor was it good enough for children's, welfare, and civil rights advocates. "We sit here in a room of privilege, but there are those who live in dire circumstances that we are blessed not to understand," said Colleen Coble of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. For the targets of the bill, "the public policy means nothing," Coble said. "What they know is, you go to the doctor, you go to jail."

Also testifying against the bill were the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

But Lager remained determined to forge forward, and a vote could take place as early as next week. "I just believe strongly that this type of action and this type of behavior cannot be condoned," he said.

A similar effort in Tennessee, however, has already bitten the dust, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which released an analysis of the Tennessee bills that laid out the case against such legislation in general and in Tennessee in particular. The advocacy group has also produced a fact sheet delineating just what is wrong with criminalizing women who use drugs while pregnant.

Drugs, Pregnancy, and Parenting: What Experts Have to Say

People working in the field of family law and child-welfare often have cases that involve issues of drug use. These lawyers, social workers, counselors, advocates and investigators, however, are often trying to do their jobs without the benefit of evidence-based research or access to experts knowledgeable about drugs, drug treatment and the relationship between drug use, pregnancy and parenting. That is why on February 11, 2009 we are sponsoring a spectacular one-day continuing education program entitled: Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts in Medicine, Social Work and the Law Have to Say. Please join us and please help us spread the word. You can register now: http://napwtraining.eventbrite.com/ If your work involves family law, child welfare law, advocacy on behalf of children, parents or families pregnant and parenting women and their families or issues of drug use – this continuing education program is for you. Even if this is not specifically your field of work, this truly interesting day will be a great way to earn continuing education credits. Substance Abuse Counselors can earn New York CASAC credits. This dynamic program features nationally and internationally renowned medical, social work, and legal experts as well as people with direct experience who will help distinguish myth from fact, evidence-based information from media hype and provide meaningful tools for improved advocacy, representation, care and treatment. Panelists will discuss current research on marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, as well as other areas of research regarding drug use, prenatal exposure to drugs, recovery, treatment and parenting. This up-to-date research is critical for effective representation and care. Discussion points will include: • What does a positive drug test predict about future neglect and abuse? • What tools can I use to distinguish between myth and fact regarding the effect of drugs and other claims made about drug use and drug users? Is there such a thing as a "crack baby"? • Is there a difference between drug use and abuse? Can a person parent and be a drug user? • How should social workers, lawyers, counselors, advocates and judges use and interpret drug tests? • How do we determine what, if any, treatment should be required and how do we measure its success? • What is the relationship between drug use, abstinence, relapse and recovery? • What does evidence-based research tell us about the effectiveness of different kinds of drug treatment? • How can we implement safety plans that keep families together? • How can I best advocate for/ help my client when drug use is an issue? No matter what kind of work you do or practice you have, this course will challenge your assumptions, identify valuable resources and generate hope about families where drug use is an issue. Registration: The fee is $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Breakfast, lunch and beverages will be provided.) Financial aid is available. Please register at: http://napwtraining.eventbrite.com/ This program was developed through a consultative process with representatives from all aspects of New York City's child welfare system. We really appreciate the time people have taken to inform us and to share their knowledge and experiences with us. This program is co-sponsored by: National Advocates for Pregnant Women, New York University School of Law, and New York University Silver School of Social Work Continuing Legal Education, (7 NY-CLE credits) Social Work and CASAC credits for full or partial day program available for New York. This program is appropriate for practitioners at all levels. Students are welcome as well. For more information, contact Allison Guttu, NAPW Equal Justice Works Staff Attorney, at 212.255.9252 or aguttu@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org.
Date: 
Wed, 02/11/2009 - 9:00am - 6:00pm
Location: 
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY
United States

Drug Testing Pregnant Women Produces False Positives (And Kills Babies)

A major and underappreciated problem with drug testing is that the stupid tests don’t even work. They say people took drugs when they didn’t. The problem is particularly apparent in the case of pregnant women who are frequently targeted for drug screening, but whose changing body chemistry throws off the results:

Hospitals' initial urine- screening drug tests on pregnant women can produce a high rate of false positives - particularly for methamphetamine and opiates - because they are technically complex and interpretation of the results can be difficult, some experts say.

Tests for methamphetamine are wrong an average of 26 percent - and possibly up to 70 percent - of the time, according to studies by the University of Kansas Medical Center, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. [DailyNews]

Of course, drug policy and science cannot coexist harmoniously, thus babies are taken from mothers who test positive, even though the tests are constantly wrong. In one tragic case, a child died in foster care after being wrongly separated from her mother:

Growing up in Los Angeles County's foster care system, Elizabeth Espinoza is sure of one thing: A baby needs its mother.

Espinoza, who was separated from her own mother when she was young because of neglect, also had her newborn baby taken by the foster-care system when she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine at the hospital after giving birth.

Just three months later, the baby, Gerardo, died when his foster mother strapped him into a car seat, took him to a neighbor's home and left him in the car seat on a bed, according to a lawsuit filed against the county's Department of Children and Family Services seeking unspecified damages. [DailyNews]

I hope I'm not being generous, but I really think almost anyone would agree that this is just sickening and horrible. The press coverage will hopefully initiate progress towards cleaning up the procedures that contributed to this travesty. I will hold out hope that common sense can prevail over the mindlessness of taking children from their parents based on evidence that is proven to be wrong up to 70% of the time, particularly now that the alternatives we have available for those children have been demonstrated to be fatally inadequate.

But there is also a larger lesson here that must not escape our attention. Think for a moment about how many women have already been falsely accused under this wildly unjust policy. Think about the social consequences of tearing families apart based on deeply flawed science in a criminal justice system that strikes without hesitation but drags its heels when it comes to righting such ubiquitous wrongs. Ask yourself, also, how such a policy was ever implemented in the first place, doomed as it was to destroy innocent families so capriciously.

Once again, we are faced with a monumental travesty, grand in scope, yet remarkably simple in origin; we should protect unborn children from drug-using mothers. We've wreaked unimaginable and undue suffering upon innocent parents and children in pursuit of the noblest of ideals. That, unfortunately, is the story of most aspects of our drug policy when they receive appropriate scrutiny. The totality of such repeated travesties forms a terrifying mosaic, the true, yet largely untold story of how our drug policies destroy innocent lives each and every day in ways we might never expect.

It is precisely because the idea to protect babies from drugs is such a no-brainer that a plan was drafted with no brains.

Pregnancy: South Carolina Supreme Court Overturns Woman's Murder Conviction for Fetal Death After Cocaine Use

The South Carolina Supreme Court Monday threw out the homicide by child abuse conviction of Regina McKnight, the first woman in South Carolina to be convicted on that charge for suffering an unintentional stillbirth after having used cocaine during her pregnancy. In its ruling in McKnight v. South Carolina, the court held that McKnight received inadequate counsel during her trial and that her conviction was based on "outdated" and inaccurate information linking the fetal death to her cocaine use.

McKnight was arrested in 1999, several months after she experienced a stillbirth at Conway Hospital. She was convicted of homicide by child abuse in 2001 after a jury bought scientifically unsupported arguments that her cocaine use caused the stillbirth. Although McKnight had no prior conviction, and even prosecutors agreed she had no intention of harming the fetus, she was sentenced to 12 years in prison with no chance of parole.

McKnight unsuccessfully appealed her conviction in 2002, challenging the constitutionality of using murder statutes to prosecute women who experience stillbirths. But in a split decision, the state Supreme Court upheld her conviction, offering a novel interpretation of the state's homicide laws. The court held that any woman who unintentionally heightens the risk of a stillbirth could be found guilty of homicide with "extreme indifference to human life." Under this doctrine, the court held, any pregnant woman who engages in activity "potentially fatal" to her fetus could be charged with murder.

McKnight and her attorneys appealed to the US Supreme Court, but that body declined to review the decision.

In Monday's decision, the state Supreme Court focused on whether McKnight got a fair trial. It found that she did not. McKnight's trial counsel, an overworked public defender, was "ineffective in her preparation of McKnight's defense through expert testimony and cross-examination," the court found. The court also found that the information given to the jury about the supposed link between McKnight's cocaine use and her stillbirth was not scientifically supported.

"Significantly, the opinion acknowledges that current research simply does not support the assumption that prenatal exposure to cocaine results in harm to the fetus, and the opinion makes clear that it is certainly 'no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor,'" said Susan Dunn, counsel for amicus. "This decision puts prosecutors across the state on notice that they must actually prove that an illegal drug has risked or caused harm -- not simply rely on prejudice and medical misinformation."

"Ms. McKnight is one of more than 500 women in South Carolina who experience stillbirths each year, and in many of those cases, medicine just can't determine the cause," said Brandi Parrish, coordinator of the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families. "It is a tragedy that Ms. McKnight has been in prison for nearly eight years for a crime she did not commit. Families in South Carolina are not helped by treating stillbirths as crimes and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to imprison innocent mothers."

At least 90 women have been prosecuted in South Carolina for stillbirths after using drugs, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, one of a number of organizations that got involved in the case when McKnight sought redress. "The groups got involved because there is complete consensus that prosecuting pregnant women is bad for mothers and babies," said Lynn Paltrow, head of the group. "Regina McKnight was convicted on junk science and was not fairly represented at trial," she told Myrtle Beach Online Tuesday.

McKnight is not out of the woods yet. Her case has been remanded for retrial, but prosecutors have so far given no indication whether they will proceed. In the meantime, she remains in prison awaiting a hearing on bail pending her new trial.

Press Release: South Carolina Supreme Court Reverses 20-Year Homicide Conviction of Regina McKnight

[Courtesy of National Advocates for Pregnant Woman & Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: May 12, 2008 For More Info: Lynn Paltrow 917-921-7421 or Tony Newman 646-335-5384 South Carolina Supreme Court Reverses 20-Year Homicide Conviction of Regina McKnight Decision Recognizes Research Linking Cocaine to Stillbirths Based on "Outdated" and Inaccurate Medical Information COLUMBIA, SC – Today, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Regina McKnight did not have a fair trial when she was convicted in 2001, becoming the first woman in South Carolina to be convicted of homicide by child abuse as a result of suffering an unintentional stillbirth. McKnight was arrested in 1999, several months after she experienced a stillbirth at Conway Hospital. McKnight’s conviction was based on the jury’s acceptance of the scientifically unsupported claim that her cocaine use caused the stillbirth. McKnight had no prior arrest history and even prosecutors agreed that she had no intention of harming the fetus or losing the pregnancy. Nevertheless, upon conviction she was given a twenty-year sentence, suspended to twelve years in prison with no chance for parole. She was projected to be released in 2010. The medical community has strongly opposed McKnight’s prosecution and conviction. From the beginning, leading South Carolina and national medical, public health, and child welfare organizations and experts have opposed the prosecution and conviction. These organizations—represented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Drug Policy Alliance, with South Carolina counsel Susan Dunn included the South Carolina Medical Association, the South Carolina Nurses Association, the South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, and the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families—argued in an amicus (friend of the court) brief that women do not lose their rights to a fair trial upon becoming pregnant and challenged the state’s evidence that cocaine use or anything else that McKnight did or did not do caused the stillbirth. In 2002 counsel for Ms. McKnight challenged the constitutionality of using homicide statutes to prosecute women who experience stillbirths. On appeal, a bare majority of the State Supreme Court upheld the conviction and the new interpretation of the state's homicide law. The Court held that a pregnant woman who unintentionally heightens the risk of a stillbirth could be found guilty of “extreme indifference to human life” homicide. Under this decision a conviction for homicide is permitted on any evidence that a pregnant woman engaged in activity “public[ly] know[n]” to be “potentially fatal” to a fetus. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the decision. Today’s ruling focused on the question of whether Ms. McKnight received a fair trial and concluded that Ms. McKnight's counsel was "ineffective in her preparation of McKnight's defense through expert testimony and cross-examination." The decision also indicated that the medical and scientific basis for her prosecution and that of other women in the state is based on outdated and inaccurate medical information. “Significantly, the opinion acknowledges that current research simply does not support the assumption that prenatal exposure to cocaine results in harm to the fetus, and the opinion makes clear that it is certainly 'no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor.'” said Susan K. Dunn, counsel for amicus. “This decision puts prosecutors across the state on notice that they must actually prove that an illegal drug has risked or caused harm—not simply rely on prejudice and medical misinformation.” This ruling addressed a petition filed on behalf of McKnight seeking a judicial review to determine whether the person is imprisoned lawfully or should be released from custody. The petition must show that the court ordered the imprisonment based on a legal or factual error. In McKnight, the factual error was accepting a causal link between McKnight’s cocaine use and her stillbirth. The legal errors were not calling medical expert as witnesses who could refute that link, failing to investigate the medical evidence the state's witnesses relied on and that was based on outdated scientific studies, and failing to challenge the court's confusing and contradictory explanations to the jury of what "intent" Ms. McKnight had to have. “Ms. McKnight is one of more than 500 women in South Carolina who experience stillbirths each year, and in many of those cases, medicine just can’t determine the cause,” said Brandi Parrish, coordinator of the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families. “It is a tragedy that Ms. McKnight has been in prison for nearly eight years for a crime she did not commit. Families in South Carolina are not helped by treating stillbirths as crimes and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to imprison innocent mothers.” The medical and public health groups also raised concerns about the consequences of South Carolina’s policy of arresting pregnant women who experience drug problems. In their brief, they cited the fact that threatening pregnant women with jail time deters them from seeking prenatal care and other vital services, as has been the case in South Carolina since the Whitner ruling in 1997 that originally permitted prosecution of pregnant women under state child endangerment charges. Ms. McKnight is represented on the petition by C. Rauch Wise of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina Foundation, Inc., and Matthew Hersh and Julie Carpenter of the law firm Jenner & Block for the DKT Liberty Project.
Location: 
Columbia, SC
United States

Pregnancy: Arizona Bill to Force Meth-Using Mothers-To-Be Into Treatment Passes Committee

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Monday approved a bill that would allow the state to detain pregnant women who use methamphetamine and hold them involuntarily in drug treatment programs. The bill also creates the crime of child abuse against a fetus. With a 4-3 "do pass" vote in the committee, the measure now heads for the Senate floor.

The bill, SB1500, is sponsored by Sen. Pamela Gorman (R-Anthem). In committee, Gorman said she is not normally a proponent of government interference in the private lives of citizens. "But I do think that the state has some very specific roles," she said. "And one of them is to protect people from harm from other people."

Under the bill, if state Child Protective Service workers know or have reasonable grounds to believe a pregnant woman is using meth and is not voluntarily seeking treatment, they must seek a court order requiring her to cooperate in a treatment program. If the woman refuses to cooperate, the bill would allow CPS to ask a judge to have sheriff's deputies pick up the woman and take her to a treatment facility. As the bill itself puts it:

"Allows a CPS worker to petition the court for an emergency custody order directing a sheriff or law enforcement officer to take the expectant mother into custody and transport the expectant mother to an institution or facility specified in the order, if either of the following applies:

a) the expectant mother refuses to comply with an issued order to cooperate.

b) the CPS worker reasonably believes that the expectant mother has previously failed or refused to comply with an appropriate prescribed course of treatment or monitoring and believes that emergency custody is necessary to protect the unborn child."

Such an unprecedented intervention is necessary given the "highly addictive" nature of meth, Gorman said. Even women highly motivated to stay clean could backslide, she warned. "I would propose that a child can't wait for a year for backsliding off good intentions to be released from being forced-fed methamphetamines by the mother," Gorman said.

Meth-using pregnant women had no advocates at the committee hearing. The three committee members who voted against the measure did so not out of concern for the well-being of those women, but out of fear that Gorman's measure could be a stalking horse for cracking down on abortion in the state. The portion of the bill that creates the crime of child abuse against a fetus could be used to halt abortions, they warned.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," by Silja Talvi (2007, Seal Press, 356 pp., $15.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Forty years ago, some 11,000 women were imprisoned in the United States. By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 110,000, and if you add in the women in jails on any given day, the number of women behind bars is around 200,000 -- many, many of them on drug charges.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/womenbehindbars-small.jpg
While the overall US prisoner population has rapidly increased over the past few decades, the growth in the number of women behind prison far surpasses the overall rate. Yet most studies of the US prison and jail systems focus on the much larger male prisoner population. That's something investigate journalist Silja Talvi hopes to redress with "Women Behind Bars," and she has done an outstanding job of it.

Visiting numerous prisons -- not only in the US, but also, for comparative purposes, in Canada, England, and Finland -- and conducting hundreds of interviews with prisoners, guards, and advocates, as well as perusing the academic literature, Talvi has constructed a portrait of the US criminal justice system's treatment of women that is a harsh indictment of not only our prisons, but also the culture that perpetuates the resort to mass incarceration as a response to social problems.

It is not easy reading. After all, who wants to read about women prisoners being sexually harassed and raped by guards, who wants to read about prison wings full of mentally disturbed women prisoners screaming incessantly or rubbing feces on their cell walls, who wants to read about women prisoners committing suicide after being locked into cell-like "suicide prevention" rooms seemingly designed to drive them over the edge? Who wants to read about some of the weakest and already most brutalized members of our society who turn to dope or prostitution (or, too often, dope and prostitution), only to be imprisoned for their "crimes"?

It's an ugly subject, and that's part of the problem. Nobody wants to think about our world-leading prison population or the agonies we inflict upon it. In fact, our prison system is geared to shutting them up behind grey walls hidden from the public eye and, hopefully, from the public consciousness. But Silja Talvi is determined to rip the scales from our eyes and force us to look at what we have wrought.

She does so with verve, grace, and humanity. Not only does Talvi bring a keen critical intellect to bear, she also gives voice to the voiceless, standing aside at times to let the women prisoners of America speak for themselves. Their tales of suffering are heartrendingly grim, sometimes seeming as if they were coming from the seventh circle of Hell. The treatment of mentally ill women prisoners is a scandal. The use of female prisoners as sexual playthings by corrupted prison guards is another.

All too many of those stories are because of the decades-long, relentless escalation of the war on drugs. For many reading these words, the story of the imprisonment juggernaut created by the drug war legislation of the 1980s and nurtured by political inertia ever since is an already familiar tale. But Salvi tells it again, eloquently and passionately. We meet women like Amy Ralston, who suffered in prison for more than a decade because she wouldn't rat out her estranged husband , and Regina White, a black woman from South Carolina doing 12 years after crusading pro-life prosecutors charged her with manslaughter for doing cocaine while pregnant -- even though there was no evidence linking her child's death to her drug use.

Talvi offers a harsh critique of the policies and practices that generate thousands of new women prisoners on drug charges, many of them only spouses or girlfriends of the law's actual targets. All too often, Salvi notes, these women end up doing more time than the real culprits even if they had little or no involvement in any drug conspiracies. Prosecutors routinely make conscious decisions to charge them as co-conspirators and send them up the river for years or decades despite knowing that the women are small change. It is a cruelty and cynicism that makes even the hardened heart weep.

Talvi isn't a prison abolitionist; she argues that there are indeed some people who need to be behind bars, but that that number is a tiny fraction of those who actually are, especially women. But she is ready to take on the drug war, sex laws, and other freedom-sucking laws and practices: "I personally would prefer to see the decriminalization or legalization of drug use, the legalization of all forms of consensual sex (including prostitution), far more opportunities for truly therapeutic intervention, prevention- and intervention-minded counseling, real vocational education, and a regular and fair parole review," she writes.

Her book, a cry from heart, will hopefully help hasten that process. We should all hope so, for as the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once famously noted, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." As it should be, for we are all complicit in this by our silence.

In fact, as I ponder this, I am reminded of another quote, this one from a freedom-loving radical in our national past. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." That was Thomas Jefferson. He's probably been spinning in his grave for so long, there's nothing left by now.

Maybe, just maybe, Silja Talvi will help save us from ourselves by forcing us to help those we victimize the most. Let's hope lots of people read this book and take its lessons to heart.

(Copies of Women Behind Bars are available as part of our latest membership offer.)

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