by Keith Sanders
In December, 2020, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) issued a Special Inspection Report detailing the Brazoria County jail’s failure to attend to the nutritional needs of a pregnant prisoner. The report cited the jail for not ensuring that pregnant prisoners are given meals appropriate to their condition, as well as not providing documentation that the jail provides a dietary menu for pregnant prisoners. TCJS also found that for the entire month of November 2020 the jail did not offer adequate recreation for its prisoner population.
According to an investigative report by The Appeal, TCJS’s reply was prompted by a complaint filed by “Jane,” an anonymous pregnant prisoner, who lost her four-month-old baby while in custody at the southeast Texas jail. After being accused of possessing contraband inside the facility, the jailers put Jane in solitary confinement. She was not allowed to bring any of her property, including food she had purchased from the jail’s commissary. While in solitary, Jane could neither purchase food nor was she allowed to make telephone calls.
In letters to her mother obtained by The Appeal, Jane complained that the jailers “took my food” and that “I’m going to starve. So is the baby.” According to her mother, Jane resorted to sucking on cough drops to stave off hunger.
Several weeks later, during a check-up, Jane’s doctor could not detect a fetal heartbeat. “That’s when they rushed her to the ER and it was too late,” Hannah, her mother, told The Appeal. “She had just lost the baby.”
Unfortunately, Texas jails are not known for adhering to jail standards or addressing the healthcare and safety needs of those in their custody. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Compounding the issue inside Texas jails is a recent bill passed by the Texas Legislature. Senate Bill 6 (and House Bill 20), referred to as the Damon Allen Act, which denies personal bonds to individuals charged with aggravated sexual assault, compelling prostitution, murder, and a host of other violent offenses; the bill even makes those who have a prior conviction for violence on their record ineligible for cash bail.
Making it harder for pre-trial detainees to make bail only increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect inside Texas jails. Gov. Greg Abbott contends that allowing individuals charged with violent offenses to make bail puts public safety at risk. The safety and health of those charged, much less convicted, however, is not even a topic for discussion.
Scott Hechinger, founder and director of defender initiative Zealous, noted that pretrial “caging in Texas, as is true throughout the rest of the country, has always been cruel, inhumane, unhealthy, racist, and violent.”
Although the TCJS cited the Brazoria County jail for neglecting Jane’s dietary needs, it was silent on her miscarriage and on the fact that jailers placed a pregnant prisoner in solitary confinement in the first place.
Branden Wood, executive director of TCJS, was adamant that solitary confinement would not be taken off the table, under any circumstance. “We do not recommend a prohibition against administrative segregation or disciplinary separation, or medical separation,” he told The Appeal in an email.
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