Pregnant Behind Bars – A Union-Bulletin Article

Posted : 09/26/19 in In the News

Pregnant Behind Bars – A Union-Bulletin Article

Posted 4 years 8 months ago



CHICAGO — Mandi Grammer was already terrified when she was admitted in March to Logan Correctional Center.


Then during intake, a routine test revealed a shock: The inmate was unexpectedly pregnant with her third child, who would continue to grow in her womb as she began serving a three-year sentence for retail theft.


Her blood pressure skyrocketed, she recalled, and she couldn’t stop sobbing. The news spurred a flurry of additional worries for the 34-year-old from Carterville, Ill.


Would the pregnancy be in danger? What kind of care would she and the fetus receive behind bars? Where and under what conditions would she give birth?


Yet some of these anxieties quelled after Grammer was assigned to a new pregnancy wing at Logan, which is about three hours southwest of Chicago. The special housing unit opened in February with the mission of providing a safer and more humane environment for pregnant and postpartum inmates, said acting Warden Beatrice Calhoun.


Offenders have their own rooms and can move about the wing freely. More comfortable bedding and large maternity pillows are permitted. The staff says the women have unlimited access to telephones, as well as video phones, to call their baby’s caretaker or other children.


A refrigerator full of donated healthy snacks — including pickle juice frozen pops, a particular craving of a few of the women living in the wing — is available at all times. Classes and nutrition are tailored for mothers-to-be and their offspring, and pregnancy education classes are mandatory.


“It’s a calming atmosphere,” Grammer said on a recent weekday, her third-trimester pregnancy swelling under a pink polo shirt, the uniform color designated for pregnant inmates so they’re easily identifiable on grounds.


The new wing at Logan is part of a larger shift in the treatment of pregnant women in jails and prisons across Illinois as well as nationwide, a growing recognition of the impact incarceration can have on parenthood as well as the next generation.


The Illinois Department of Corrections in 2007 launched its “Moms and Babies” program at Decatur Correctional Center, which allows some offenders to keep their infants in a prison nursery after giving birth.


Illinois in 1999 became the first state to ban the practice of shackling incarcerated women during labor and delivery, and many other states have passed some form of anti-shackling laws over the past two decades.


About a year and a half ago, Logan began allowing one designated “birthing support person” — often the father of the baby or a relative of the inmate — to be present during labor and birth, as well as up to an hour afterward. Delivery typically occurs at an outside hospital or medical facility. A correctional officer is present except immediately prior to and during delivery, when the officer steps just outside the door, according to the prison’s pregnancy wing orientation manual.


“The emphasis of this gender responsive, trauma-informed and family-centered program is to facilitate family ties by strengthening the bond between extended family and the newborn,” the document states.


As for Grammer, she still stresses about having to return to prison without her newborn after giving birth.


Her baby is due in October. Her projected parole is in July 2020, according to state corrections records.


She doesn’t know the baby’s gender yet and is hoping to be surprised at delivery.


But after an ultrasound, she asked a medical provider to write “boy” or “girl” inside an envelope, which she shared with her fellow inmates and the wing’s correctional officer, who have so far managed to keep the secret from her.


“The other girls in here, honestly, are really supportive,” Grammer said. “We’ve all been through something. So we can help … get someone else through that, whatever they’re going through.”


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