Pregnant Woman Jailed for Three Months Without Bail for Smoking Cannabis

An Alabama woman was held in Etowah County Detention Center for three months after saying she smoked cannabis on the day she learned she was pregnant.

Full story after the jump.

A pregnant woman was held in an Alabama county jail for three months and denied bail in order to “protect” the fetus after she admitted to having used cannabis while pregnant, AL.com reports. Police and courts are relying on a state law that prohibits pregnant women who are arrested for drug offenses to post bail.

The case involves the Etowah County Detention Center, where 23-year-old Ashley Banks, arrested for the possession of cannabis and a pistol without a permit to carry, was denied bail after she admitted to smoking cannabis the day she found out she was pregnant. Her attorneys say Banks is not the only one, however. They say multiple women and new moms have been held for weeks or months in the same jail after being accused of exposing their fetuses to drugs. The moms’ release is often based on special bond conditions involving rehab and $10,000 cash, according to the report.

Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB/GYN and expert on incarceration and pregnancy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote in an affidavit to the court asking for Bank’s release:

“The stress and conditions in jail and prisons, including lack of consistent access to standard prenatal care and mental health care, poor diets, poor sanitation, infestations with bugs and vermin, poor ventilation, tension, noise, lack of privacy, lack of family and community contact, can be detrimental to physical and mental health which can result in poor pregnancy outcomes for both the mother and the baby.” — Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, in an affidavit to the court

Banks, who has a high-risk pregnancy, eventually went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma, a condition that causes blood to pool near the wall of the uterus during pregnancy and can result in miscarriage or preterm delivery. She said that after returning to the jail, she continued to bleed for five weeks, suffered from fainting spells and hunger, and had to sleep on the floor.

Two times she was assessed for drug addiction but ultimately she did not qualify for the county’s free drug addiction services. Additionally, the county would not accept her $10,000 bail without the accompanying drug treatment services, which led to her prolonged time behind bars. She was eventually released on August 25 to Community Corrections, AL.com reported.

Another woman, Hali Burns, was held in Etowah County jail just six days after giving birth, with police saying that she had tested positive for a drug used by pregnant women with opioid addictions to help manage cravings and withdrawal.

Alabama has an exceptionally high incarceration rate, according to Prison Policy Initiative data, locking up about 938 people per 100,000 residents.  

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