Activists rallied Friday to denounce the incarceration of a woman who gave birth after being arrested. Joss Deuerling, 31, delivered her child in a hospital but then returned to Allegheny County Jail. She was arrested for failing a drug test in violation of her probation.
Critics say the situation reflects problems with the jail's handling of substance abuse among inmates.
“If police, judges, and prisons were effective at dealing with drug addiction, then this would be the most sober country in the world. It obviously is not,” Deuerling’s attorney, Bret Grote, said.
Grote, who serves as legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, said Deuerling should be reunited with her children and get treatment in the community.
The lawyer also faulted the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department for the conditions he said Deuerling experienced while giving birth. The mother of four was not allowed to tell anyone she was in labor and “was limited in the amount of time she was even able to hold her newborn baby” before being returned to jail, Grote said.
In addition, he said, “She was forced to … endure a sheriff’s officer in the room the entire time. She was not allowed to shower for two days after giving birth [under the orders of] the sheriff’s officer.”
County officials contest Grote’s account of Deuerling’s captivity, but they said privacy regulations bar them from discussing specifics. They noted in a written statement, however, “Whether inmates are allowed to shower after birth is determined by the health care provider, not [a] correctional officer or the Sheriff’s Department. The same applies to determinations related to holding the baby after giving birth.”
The officials also said an inmate would have access to her newborn “as soon as safely possible,” and for bonding.
Regardless, Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, a staff attorney at the Institutional Law Project, said jails and prisons are ill-equipped for women.
“Because jails and prisons are not used to incarcerating women, they don’t know how to handle women,” she said. “They do not have reproductive health care. They do not have adequate programs to keep women connected with their children and families.”
A jail official said medical specialists at the facility ensure inmates are transported to the hospital when necessary.
Grote said Judge Anthony Mariani has revoked Deuerling’s probation, meaning she will go to state prison. She could receive treatment for drug addiction while in prison, but Grote said she’s likely to be on a waitlist for months.
The attorney said Deuerling’s four children remain in their father’s custody. He said Deuerling also had custody of the children before she was arrested.