Pregnant inmates at Orange County Women’s Jail received inconsistent medical and custodial care, including one woman who was shackled to her hospital bed while suffering a miscarriage, according to a 2019-20 grand jury report.
The report, presented this month to the county Board of Supervisors, reviewed 10 fetal deaths in Orange County custody and the treatment of pregnant inmates.
Spotlighted in the report was the case of a mentally ill woman who miscarried at 28 weeks. Although she was drugged and unable to walk away, a deputy refused a doctor’s order to take the shackles off her, the report said. Jurors said the department’s explanation for the shackling was grossly inadequate, especially since state law calls for restraints to be removed from pregnant women if a doctor orders it, absence any major security concerns.
Another woman delivered a 25-week stillborn fetus in her jail cell toilet. Correctional Health Services staff — employed by the county health agency — did not consult with the on-site gynecologist/pregnancy doctor as symptoms of preterm labor worsened. Instead, the inmate was told to lay down, rest and drink more water. The report said the inmate should have been taken to the hospital.
The inmate later had to ration her pads because staff gave her only a few per day to help with the bleeding.
“Even when it exists, established policy was not always adhered to resulting in inconsistent medical and custodial care delivered to pregnant inmates,” the report concluded. “The lack of careful screening and appropriate medical treatment during incarceration, could contribute to pregnant inmates and their babies being at risk for life-long health problems.”
In a response letter to the superior court, Sheriff Don Barnes said the report was filled with errors.
“Each of the inaccuracies were brought to the attention of the grand jury prior to publication, but almost all were ignored,” Barnes wrote. “Inaccurate reports by a Grand Jury have real consequence and undermine the trust between local government and the citizens we serve.”
At any given time, 15 inmates are pregnant at the Orange County Women’s jail, about 5 percent of the population there, the report said.
During its investigation, the panel learned that health records taken at the jail and during an inmate’s obstetrician/gynecologist visits were usually incomplete. Vital signs were left blank or inadequately completed, with missing data throughout.
The report said the inadequacies showed incomplete care, noncompliance with department rules, incorrect diagnosis and improper treatment
Among the problems, inmates were tested for high blood pressure while handcuffed behind their backs, likely to result in inaccurate readings.
And pregnant inmates were assigned to the top bunks instead of the bottom. One woman who miscarried was immediately moved to the top bunk.
Source: Orange County Register