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ACLU Scrutinizes Pennsylvania Jail Policies on Reproductive Health

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union calls the reproductive health policies of Pennsylvania's county jails an "uneven patchwork" that fails to address basic health issues.

The study pointed out holes in the county jails' policies on abortion, pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and contraception.

"In some cases, these policies fail to meet basic constitutional standards, leaving counties legally vulnerable," said ACLU-PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford.

Each of the 57 county jails which house women in Pennsylvania has a different policy on reproductive health, according to report author Carol Petraitis of the ACLU-PA. She attributed the variety of policies to Pennsylvania's "long, proud history of local control," but suggested that some policies may need statewide guidelines.

Petraitis said each county jail has slowly developed its own policy regarding women as the rate of incarcerated females has increased, often writing rules in reaction to specific incidents.

"Certainly, Lackawanna County had a woman give birth in her jail cell, and a lot of people heard her crying and she finally held her baby up to the security camera to show them she had delivered," said Petraitis. "They now have one of the most complete policies about labor and delivery of any county in the state."

The ACLU said it mailed the report to each of the 57 jails, and offered to help the wardens improve practices.

Policies in Southwestern Pennsylvania

The report pointed out several policy gaps in Allegheny County, including:

  • No pregnancy test offered upon intake, or upon request
  • No contraception policy
  • A lack of payment details in the abortion policy
  • No policy to require pregnant women to take the bottom bunk
  • No STD testing/treatment policy

Similarly, the report found no STD policy in Beaver County, which also lacked a pregnancy testing policy, a contraception policy, and a labor & delivery policy.
In Washington County, the report found problems with the pregnancy testing policy, no abortion policy, no labor & delivery policy, and no STD test upon intake.

There were relatively few problems found in Westmoreland County, where the report said there is no contraception policy and no labor & delivery policy.