Behind bars and alone in a Florida jail cell, a pregnant, mentally ill woman complained late at night of contractions and beseeched the prison guards for help. But instead of transporting her to a hospital, the officers chose to phone an on-call doctor who turned out to be uncontactable for hours and ultimately didn’t show up in time to assist in the birth, the woman’s lawyers claim.
In the doctor’s absence, Tammy Jackson, 34, allegedly gave birth to her baby alone in her prison cell — without medical assistance of any kind.
In a scalding letter addressed to Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, public defender Howard Finkelstein said officers at the special needs detention facility where Jackson was held were fully aware of her pregnancy and mental illness — and yet failed to “protect either Ms. Jackson or her child.”
“It is unconscionable that any woman, particularly a mentally ill woman, would be abandoned in her cell to deliver her own baby,” Finkelstein wrote in the Friday letter, which was first obtained and reported by The Miami Herald.
According to the attorney, Jackson, who was at full term, was being held in an “isolation cell” on April 10 when she alerted officers at around 3 a.m. that she was having contractions. The guards, Finkelstein said, attempted to contact an on-call doctor but weren’t able to reach him for almost four hours. In the interim, Jackson was allegedly left alone in her cell, without medication or assistance.
At around 7.20 a.m., prison staff finally made contact with the doctor who said “he would check on [Jackson] when he arrived at the jail,” Finkelstein’s letter said. Yet, an hour and 38 minutes later, Jackson reported that she was “bleeding but still … isolated in her cell.”
Finally, at around 10 a.m., a prison employee found Jackson with her newborn infant in her arms, the letter said, noting that six hours and 54 minutes had elapsed since the mother first asked for help.
″[In] her time of extreme need and vulnerability, [the Broward Sheriff’s Office] neglected to provide Ms. Jackson with the assistance and medical care all mothers need and deserve,” Finkelstein wrote.
The sheriff’s office told the Herald in a statement that a medical team, including a physician and two nurses, later attended to the mother and child.
“Child Protective Investigations Section was notified, and the baby was placed with an appropriate caregiver,” a spokeswoman said.
Citing court records, The Hill said Jackson was arrested earlier this year on cocaine possession charges and later released, but was arrested again after she failed to report for pretrial services.
Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes described Jackson’s mental illness as “significant.”
Finkelstein, who demanded an “immediate review of the medical and isolation practices in place in all detention facilities” in his letter, said it remains to be seen how the gross negligence” Jackson endured will affect her “already fragile mental health.”
“Not only was Ms. Jackson’s health callously ignored, the life of her child was also put at grave risk,” he wrote.