FRESNO - Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to Tulare County Sheriff Boudreaux charging that Tulare County jails are violating their legal and constitutional obligation to provide incarcerated people with adequate prenatal care. The jail has already put the pregnancies of three women at risk, and more will be put in danger if conditions don’t improve. The letter demands that the Sheriff immediately revise jail policies to comply with state law and train jail staff in how to follow the policies to ensure that incarcerated people in Tulare County jails have full access to legally required prenatal care.
Over the past year, the ACLU discovered that Tulare County jail staff unlawfully denied three women with high-risk pregnancies from receiving medical care. By doing so they were in violation of state law that requires that incarcerated pregnant people receive timely and adequate prenatal and postpartum support, and they violated the constitution, which protects from cruel and unusual punishment.
Last year, the ACLU supported three women with high-risk pregnancies in the Tulare County jails and helped secure their release after doctors testified to the court that they had no confidence in the jail’s ability to ensure the women’s safety in order to carry their pregnancies to term. Once out of the jails, each woman successfully delivered their child without further complications.
The women, Alexandra Meza, J.A., and Janielle Ausherman were all diagnosed with conditions that could cause them to deliver early, bleed out, or require an emergency C-section surgery. Doctors told jail staff that each woman needed additional, ongoing prenatal care, yet jail staff repeatedly refused to set up the necessary medical appointments or provide them with their prescribed treatment.
Alexandra Meza was incarcerated at the Bob Wiley Detention Center in October 2020. Jail officials were informed that Ms. Meza had placenta previa, a serious condition that, combined with her gestational diabetes, would require close monitoring and follow-up appointments, but jail staff refused even to take Ms. Meza to a hospital until she had bled for three consecutive days. Jail staff also denied her an expeditious ultrasound and refused to make appointments with needed specialists.
J.A. was incarcerated at the same facility and also diagnosed with placenta previa and gestational diabetes. At the time J.A. was sent to jail, her doctor warned that her pregnancy condition, combined with a potential heart or kidney problem, could put her health and pregnancy at serious risk. Still, jail officials never took J.A. to the weekly maternal specialist that her doctor prescribed. They also never gave J.A. her prescribed low-sodium diet. At one point, J.A.’s legs were so severely swollen that she lost the ability to walk.
Janielle Ausherman was incarcerated at the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office Adult Pre-Trial Facility in January 2021. Her obstetrician told her that due to serious complications with her pregnancy, she would need to deliver early via C-section and was at risk for several emergency pregnancy conditions that could be fatal to her and her fetus. While in jail, staff ignored her symptoms, delayed her treatment, and took months to provide her with prescribed medication and equipment. In one instance, jail staff refused to call an ambulance when her blood pressure spiked, leading to an emergency 24-hour stay in the hospital.
Since these women were released, there has been no evidence that the Tulare County jails have updated their policies or staff training to ensure compliance with the law and Constitution. The ACLU did recently learn that along with providing inadequate prenatal care, the jails have also failed to supply two women with menstrual products.
“As long as Sheriff Boudreaux continues to flout the law, people will be put at risk of losing their pregnancies,” said Faride Perez-Aucar, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Tulare jails have to fix their policies immediately, but it’s also clear that the county needs alternatives to incarceration so that pregnant people are not locked in cells where the prenatal care is non-compliant or non-existent, and staff is negligent.”
The ACLU’s letter gives Sheriff Boudreaux ten days to begin changing the jail’s prenatal policies and training programs so that they comply with the law. If he fails to do so, the organization will pursue alternative means, including potential litigation.
Read the letter here.