Broward County

Mentally ill woman gave birth alone in isolated jail cell, Broward public defender says

Miami

A jailed and pregnant mentally ill woman was forced to deliver her child alone in an “isolation cell” last month as corrections officers ignored her cries for help, Broward County’s public defender charged on Friday.

In a letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wrote that North Broward Bureau jail inmate Tammy Jackson began complaining to staffers of contractions at 3:16 a.m. on April 10. By 10 a.m., he said she was lying in her cell by herself holding her newborn daughter.

“She was forced to deliver her baby alone,” Finkelstein wrote in a two-page letter that also demanded a review of detention policies.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office says it learned of the incident two days later and immediately launched an internal affairs investigation.

In an email, BSO spokeswoman Gina Carter said “a Well Path medical team, including a physician and two nurses, attended to the mother and child. Child Protective Investigations Section was notified, and the baby was placed with an appropriate caregiver.”

According to Finkelstein, jail and medical personnel knew Jackson was at full-term and near giving birth when she was booked on March 27. The staffers at the jail, described by BSO’s website as “a minimum to medium security, special needs detention facility,” were also aware of her mental illness.

About 75 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But the average delay between onset and intervention is 8 to 10 years, meaning people could go years before getting help.

Finkelstein said two weeks later, just after 3 a.m., she began complaining of contractions and asked for help. Yet, according to Finkelstein, instead of transporting her to a hospital, staff tried reaching an on-call physician. At 7:22 a.m. that morning, Finkelstein said, the doctor said he was on his way. Then at 9 a.m., about an hour before she gave birth, the woman said she was bleeding and still alone in her cell.

Jackson remains in the custody of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, but is currently in the hospital recovering, said Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes, who also signed the letter to Sheriff Tony. Weekes could not provide details on the baby’s condition.

“Just imagine going through the trauma of delivering a baby, screaming for help, people are within earshot, and no one comes to your aid from 4 a.m., when the contractions start, until 10 a.m.,” said Weekes. “All the while knowing people are in earshot.”

Jackson, 34, was arrested by BSO in late March. According to records from the Broward County Clerk of Court, she’d been arrested in January on cocaine possession charges and released, but failed to report for pretrial services so a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was also charged with trespassing, sleeping on a public street and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Since the day she was arrested, Finkelstein said, the Broward Sheriff’s Office was aware of her pregnancy. She was placed in an infirmary so her medical issues could be monitored, according to the public defender. “Not only was Ms. Jackson’s health callously ignored, the life of her child was also put at grave risk,” Finkelstein wrote.

Jackson underwent a competency evaluation late last month, according to the court docket in her case. Weekes declined to detail Jackson’s mental illness, but described it as “significant.”

In his letter Finkelstein demanded an immediate review of medical and isolation practices at all Broward County detention facilities.

“It is unconscionable that any woman, particularly a mentally ill woman, would be abandoned in her cell to deliver her own baby,” the public defender wrote. “Your staff did not protect either Ms. Jackson or her child. Despite their neglect and callous indifference, both Ms. Jackson and her child survived. It remains to be seen how this gross negligence will affect Ms. Jackson’s already fragile mental health.”

A public defender was punched in the head by a defendant in Broward County on March 27, 2019.

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