California Jail forces Pregnancy Tests
Fingerprints? Check. Booking photos? Check. Personal details? Check. Pregnancy test? … Hey, wait a minute.
In a curious turn of events, female inmates booked in for a stay at Alameda County Jail are subjected to a forced pregnancy test during the booking process. It’s a procedure followed in no other California jail, and it represents a bizarre and troubling attack on civil rights for arrested women. Pregnancy testing is mandated even if someone is clearly too young or too old to be a likely candidate for pregnancy, and people are likewise tested if they’re sterilized or on birth control. The indiscriminate forcible testing of women during booking is something that no one wants to take responsibility for; the sheriff’s department has alternately said it’s a mandatory policy, a voluntary one, or even the responsibility of the prison contractor that oversees the jail system, as Susie Cagle discovered when investigating the issue for RH Reality Check.
Prisoners were even forced to take pregnancy tests while menstruating — and deputies wouldn’t give them menstrual supplies.
Why the urgency when it comes to determining whether detainees are pregnant? It’s not clear, as we don’t live in an era where women are treated differently in the prison system when they’re pregnant (in the 1700s, for example, pregnant women with death sentences were courteously allowed to live out their pregnancies before execution). In fact, pregnant women in the justice system face issues like deprivation of basic medical care, being forced to labor in shackles, and having their children taken away from them almost immediately after delivery — although some advocate for changes to this policy.
As the only California county with this practice, Alameda (which includes Berkeley, Oakland and surrounding areas) has attracted the attention of the ACLU, which filed suit in June. According to the group’s press release on the subject:
“If the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is genuinely concerned about the health of women in their custody, voluntary pregnancy testing should be administered as part of a comprehensive health exam,” said Elizabeth Gill, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Forcing a woman to take a pregnancy test is a clear violation of a person’s constitutional rights, as well as a violation of other state law.”
San Francisco County, across the Bay, provides pregnancy tests as an option to inmates, but doesn’t require them. This is a common policy in jail facilities across the U.S. — and the ACLU, along with inmates, advocates and reproductive justice groups, wants to see Alameda County brought in line. The sheriff’s department claims testing is necessary to determine which facilities to route inmates to and to provide specialized care for pregnant inmates, but this could be determined just as easily by allowing inmates who know they’re pregnant or think they might be to opt to take tests. This would allow women to retain their civil rights while still ensuring that those who need access to pregnancy-related services can get them.
The plaintiffs in the ACLU suit want a court order to stop the mandatory testing, and are not seeking any damages. Their focus is solely on protecting civil rights for future inmates — because no one should be forced to pee into a cup in the middle of an open cell while deputies and other prisoners watch.
Source: Care2 Causes