Facing motherhood behind bars City helps with prenatal care, understanding.

April 21, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Posie Spratley, a 26-year-old inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center, is anxiously awaiting two important dates. On Monday, she stands trial on a charge of violating probation for a theft count, and the following week, she is due to give birth to her fourth child.

If Ms. Spratley is convicted, her baby will be delivered at the University of Maryland Medical Center and she will lose custody of the child. Either Ms. Spratley's relatives or the state Social Services Department will be responsible for the child while she serves time in prison.

Ms. Spratley has been detained at the Women's Detention Center at the Baltimore City Detention Center since March 3. Inmates held at the detention center are either awaiting trial or serving short sentences.

Ms. Spratley worries about going to prison and losing her child. She tries to nap, but the almost constant sound of clanging cell doors makes it difficult.

"It's like you just sit and wait here," she says. "It's uncomfortable, but there's nothing else to do."

She says the situation becomes much harder to endure when she thinks of what may happen at her trial next week.

"It's hard to think of being away from my baby. It hurts. The first months are so important, but I've got to do what I've got to do."

As of last Friday, 252 female inmates were jailed at the facility and 29 of them were pregnant. Ms. Spratley is housed in the jail's maternity ward, a seven-bed residence for women who have reached the final trimester of pregnancy.

Established 10 months ago, the detention center's maternity ward is where expectant inmates are housed and given prenatal care that includes a special diet. Pregnant inmates who have not reached the final trimester of pregnancy are housed in a special dormitory.

Placing the pregnant inmates together makes the administration of health care more efficient, officials say. All of the pregnant women receive parental counseling, child-care classes and nutritional care.

The jail's population fluctuates as some inmates are released and others go to trial, but the pregnancy rate consistently stands about 10 percent at the facility. Substance abuse is a problem for about 80 percent of the women who enter the jail -- including the pregnant inmates. Special medical care is provided for pregnant inmates, including methadone for inmates addicted to heroin, says LaMont A. Flanagan, commissioner of pretrial detention and services.

A jail official who asks that her name be withheld says, "They come in here with addictions, even the ladies who are going to be mothers. It's sad when you see them pregnant and about to bring an innocent life into the world."

Mr. Flanagan says that many of the pregnant inmates have had little or no prenatal care before being incarcerated.

"They come to us with an array of medical deficiencies in their health. When they are here, they receive the best health from the state that money can buy," he says.

Ms. Spratley, a drug abuser before she was jailed, says she doubts if she would have sought prenatal care out on the streets.

"Outside, I wasn't eating right, and I was sniffing a lot of drugs," she says. "I was stealing things like clothes and selling them, and I was using a lot drugs. I've changed a lot, though."

Giselle Hicks, 20, a West Baltimore resident who has been held at the detention center on a murder charge since Dec. 3, says she knows many pregnant women on the streets who don't take care of themselves.

"A lot of girls are having children, but don't know why they're having it," says Ms. Hicks, whose third child is due in early June. "I'm more aware now of the things that they tell me. It matters more."

Having a newborn taken away, often within hours after birth, is one of the hardest parts of being in prison for the inmates, says Dr. Diana Fishbein, a professor at the University of Baltimore who has assisted in developing several programs for pregnant inmates.

Mr. Flanagan says he's seeking help from the city and the state to improve the prenatal services at the jail.

"I am optimistic that this is a very high priority of the city Health Department and that a program of this nature will be developed expeditiously," he says, adding: "This population has a greater need for prenatal care than the outside population. More and more black infants are being born to mothers who are immature and caught in a cycle of poverty."

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