Five pregnant and postpartum women held on drug charges in an Alabama prison have been released after lawyers found their bail conditions “unconstitutional.”
One of the women, 23-year-old Ashley Banks, was arrested two days after she discovered she was pregnant in May of this year and charged with possession of marijuana. She admitted to smoking weed two days earlier and was charged with “endangering children”, according to AL.com.
Under Alabama law, this means she’s incarcerated in the Etowah County jail on $10,000 cash for fetal protection and can’t leave unless she’s in a drug rehab program.
Even when Banks’ family raised money for her bail, the payment was denied because her tie-up required her to have a place at a rehab facility. But experts who evaluated her twice found that she could not qualify for a place because she did not have a substance use disorder.
According to the National Advocacy for Pregnant Women (NAPW), Burns was detained for three months, despite the high risk of pregnancy and sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding, according to the National Advocacy for Women. Pregnant Women (NAPW), who represent Burns and four other women.
The women were arrested on charges of “plagiarizing children,” a law originally passed in 2006 to protect children from the dangers of methamphetamine labs. But in 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the law should also cover “unborn children,” and prosecutors across the state began bringing more charges against pregnant women.
According to NAPW, there have been more than 150 similar “chemical hazards” cases in Etowah County since 2010, more than any other county in Alabama.
At least ten women have been held at the Etowah County Jail on charges of “dangerous chemicals” over the past three months, according to a review of the inmate list by The Daily Beast. Advocates say the number could be higher, according to conversations with their customers.
Another woman, Hali Burns, was arrested in July, six days after giving birth to her second child. After being tested for drugs at the hospital, Burns tested positive for methamphetamine and Subutex, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, according to a press release from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. Her lawyers say the test results were from prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
According to NAPW, while incarcerated for two months, Burns was not allowed to see her toddler or infant, was denied postpartum care, and suffered from severe depression.
“My little girl keeps asking what she did wrong and why she can’t come home,” said Craig Battles, Bank’s boyfriend, tell AL.com.
Attorneys working with NAPW filed the petition arguing that the bail conditions imposed on three of the women were unconstitutional, and were successful in changing local policy. Etowah County reduced bail to $2,500 and released two more women. However, they still require women to pay for pre-test monitoring and those who are pregnant to be tested for drugs every 48 to 72 hours, according to Emma Roth, a staff attorney at NAPW.
Roth hopes this new policy will mean fewer pregnant and postpartum women being detained indefinitely.
“This is a really important victory and a huge step forward,” Roth said, “But it is not until the statute is revised or repealed that we can say that pregnancy and substance abuse are preference would not be criminalized, but rather a public health issue. “