Montgomery County inmate who gave birth in jail cell is symptom of larger problem in jails, expert says

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Advocates are calling for accountability after an inmate in the Montgomery County Jail gave birth in her cell alone Sunday.

“She was probably terrified, and there was nothing she could do about it,” said Dawn Harrington, the executive director of Free Hearts, a group that supports Tennessee families impacted by incarnation, said.

According to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, an inmate in the medical pod of the jail informed a deputy of a medical concern at 11:31 a.m. Sunday. Minutes later, the sheriff’s office said a licensed practical nurse arrived, assessed the inmate, then left to consult with medical staff.

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At 11:54 a.m., officials said a registered nurse performed a follow up assessment on the inmate, then medical staff left the cell. According to the sheriff’s office, the staff continued to check on the woman periodically, but at 12:41 p.m., a deputy responded to the inmate’s cell and learned she had given birth.

“I think this is a symptom of a larger issue when it comes to adequate medical care for pregnant mamas in jail,” Harrington said.

Harrington told News 2 she was horrified when she learned about what happened, but she wasn’t surprised. She said jail staff often brush off pregnant inmates’ complaints when it comes to medical needs.

“A lot of times the staff isn’t adequately trained or prepared to really address these concerns,” Harrington said. “They are not believing the concerns in the moment, and that’s how we end up in a situation like this.”

Harrington believes jail is no place for a pregnant woman. However, she said the medical staff at the Montgomery County Jail failed to provide the inmate with adequate medical care while in labor.

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“In this situation, the mama should have been sent on a hot ambulance out of there to the hospital, but instead they sent (her) back to the cell, which shows they’re not believing what was being said when the request happened, which we see is a huge issue,” Harrington said.

It’s unclear whether the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office employs its own jail medical staff or contracts staff through an outside company.

Regardless, Harrington believes they need to be retrained and that there should be a comprehensive policy that addresses situations like these in the future. She encourages witnesses to document and log anything they heard or saw during Sunday’s situation for evidence.

“Because of things like the Prison Litigation Reform Act, it may be more challenging for pregnant mamas to hold facilities accountable, but I think it’s still very much worth it because they need to learn from this situation,” Harrington said. “The whole state needs to learn from this situation so this never happens again.”

The MCSO declined to provide any additional information, “in order to preserve confidentiality and for the protection and welfare of the mother and child in this incident,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to News 2.

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The Montgomery County District Attorney said he didn’t know if jail staff followed protocol. It’s unclear if his office is investigating or if there will be any discipline.

Harrington encouraged the woman’s family to reach out for any help.

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