Pregnant Drug Users in Alabama Getting Jail Time Instead of Help
A recent New York Times article profiles the problem of pregnant drug users, focusing on an Alabama law used to jail the women and a district attorney who apparently believes this is a reasonable solution. An excerpt:
The environment can be unforgiving. Rachel Barfoot, 31, who had been charged before with beating her niece, told her probation officer that she was pregnant. When she tested positive for cocaine, she was arrested.
“I was in shock,” said Ms. Barfoot. “I told the truth, but the truth got me nowhere,” she said in an interview. Three months pregnant, already a mother of four, she spent five weeks in the Covington County Jail.
“It was hell,” said Ms. Barfoot, now jobless and struggling. Police affidavits make it clear that local doctors are cooperating in these investigations.
The women are sent off to county jails, state prisons, or drug rehabilitation clinics, and often emerge bitter at the collaboration of police, prosecutors, judges, doctors and social workers they say is less keen on help — Mr. Gambril insists otherwise — than punishment.
“In Covington County, I don’t think they’re interested in helping mothers,” Ms. Hitson said. “They’re just sending people straight to prison. It doesn’t help their drug problems.”
Although the article doesn’t point to the specific new law that is used to jail these women, but I assume it is Section 26-15-3.2 of Alabama code, which makes it a class C felony to “Knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia as defined in Section 13A-12-260. A violation under this subdivision is a Class C felony.” This piece of law makes no distinction for pregnant women to take into account the dismal health care of prison and the inappropriateness of that environment for a pregnant woman. It also ignores the option of rehabilitation as a potentially more socially responsible fix, at least on a situation-by-situation basis. The article does note that some women have been sent to rehab, but the law as written doesn’t seem to specifically call for that option.
The times should have spoken with someone from National Advocates for Pregnant Women on this issue; the organization explains their position:
By combining claims of fetal rights with the war on drugs, new laws that punish pregnant women and families are being enacted and enforced. There is consensus in the medical community that addiction is a public health issue and that treating drug use during pregnancy as a crime undermines the health of both women and children. Yet fetal rights advocates in some states have convinced police, prosecutors, judges that addiction itself may be punished if the addict or drug user is a pregnant woman and that a pregnant woman’s addiction should be treated as a form of civil child abuse. These cases and statutes are having a devastating effect on women’s reproductive and human rights as well as public health, drug policy reform efforts, family life, and efforts for racial equality.
More information on this issue is provided at http://www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org/issues/punishment_of_pregnant_women/