Pregnant Behind Bars: News 5 Investigates Conditions at Mobile Metro Jail

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — More women are incarcerated than ever before, and many of them are pregnant. Three to four percent of women behind bars are expectant mothers, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center.

News 5 spoke with pregnant inmates at Metro Jail as part of our investigation into the conditions a woman faces while carrying a child behind bars.

We sat down with Amber Harden, who was five and a half months pregnant when we talked to her. She was in the general jail population, and it was very loud and rowdy. She said jail is not a place for pregnant women.

“I am really upset honestly,” Harden said. “This isn’t a good experience for my first child.”

Harden believes there should be a type of maternity ward where pregnant women can receive a better diet and get more exercise.

Just days after we spoke with her, Harden was released from jail. During our interview, she said she planned to change her life and be a good mom.

“This is it. I will not be coming back here. I will be a good example for my child. My past wasn’t good. Maybe he/she can learn from my past,” Harden said.

We also talked to inmate April Esfeller. She was about seven months pregnant with her fourth child, a girl. She said she found out she was pregnant when she failed a drug test this past spring. She insists a judge is keeping her locked up, to keep her drug-free so that she will have a healthy baby. She lives in the barracks now, which is an upgrade from the general jail population. She is upset over the fact that she will have to return to jail after she gives birth at the hospital.

“I want to be able to go home with my baby,” Esfeller said. “I realize I have to do my time, but I want to be able to go home with my family.”

Esfeller’s baby will go home with her husband.

According to the warden, Trey Oliver, there are usually about a dozen pregnant inmates at Metro Jail at any time. He says they are treated just like any other inmate, but they do receive prenatal care. They are given access to doctors, and they do get ultrasounds. They also are given a daily prenatal vitamin. However, they are not given attention for every little ache and pain.

“We make sure they are kept healthy,” Oliver said. “We put the baby first. We don’t put the inmate first. We put the baby first from a medical standpoint.”

According to a study from the National Women’s Law Center, prenatal care for pregnant women in jail or prison is subpar in Alabama and Mississippi. The organization put out a report card, and Alabama and Mississippi received an “F” for the resources given to pregnant women behind bars. Florida fared better, receiving a “C.” The report encourages states to consider alternative sentencing, instead of incarcerating women for certain crimes. You can read the entire report here.

At Metro Jail, if a mother gives birth while serving a sentence or awaiting trial, the baby can go home with a family member. If no family member is available, the baby goes into foster care.

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