Inmate gave birth 'alone in an isolation cell' hours after asking for a doctor

Officials knew she was pregnant and called the doctor but waited for hours.

May 6, 2019, 1:29 PM

A woman with mental illness gave birth in an isolated jail cell hours after she asked jail officials for help, in a case that is now being investigated.

Tammy Jackson was taken into custody on March 27 and being held in the North Broward Bureau, a minimum to medium security jail in Pompano Beach, Florida, on charges of possession of cocaine and various misdemeanors and municipal ordinance violations across several cases, according to the public defender's office.

The sheriff's office knew she was pregnant since March 27, public defender Howard Finkelstein, who is representing her, wrote in a letter to the sheriff.

"She had been placed in the infirmary specifically so her medical issues could be monitored and addressed," Finkelstein wrote. "Yet in her time of extreme need and vulnerability, BSO neglected to provide Ms. Jackson with the assistance and medical care all mothers need and deserve."

In the early hours of April 10, Jackson reported she was having contractions and asked the jail staff for help, according to Finkelstein's letter. Officials tried to contact the on-call physician at 3:16 a.m. but did not speak to the doctor until 7:22 a.m. She was not transported to the nearby hospital, the letter states.

"Hours passed as Ms. Jackson continued in labor, alone in an isolation cell," the letter states.

PHOTO: An empty jail cell in an undated file photo.
An empty jail cell in an undated file photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

More than an hour and a half after speaking with the on-call doctor, a sheriff's office employee "notified medical staff that Ms. Jackson was holding her newborn baby in her arms, having delivered her baby without medication or the assistance of a physician," the letter states.

"It is unconscionable that any woman, particularly a mentally ill woman, would be abandoned in her cell to deliver her own baby. 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," Finkelstein wrote.

Hours passed as Ms. Jackson continued in labor, alone in an isolation cell.

Gina Carter, the public information officer for the Broward Sheriff's Office, released a statement to ABC News saying their internal affairs unit was notified of the incident on April 12 and "immediately launched an internal investigation."

"Following the delivery, 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. The Internal Affairs investigation continues," Carter said in the statement.

"I demand an immediate review of the medical and isolation practices in place in all detention facilities to ensure that no mother endures the ordeal Ms. Jackson survived," Finkelstein wrote.

Jackson has been held without bond due to a violation of her pretrial supervision and is slated to have a hearing on Wednesday following the public defender's request for her release. She remains in state custody and is currently being held in the hospital, the public defender's office states.

It is unclear if there is any reliable data relating to pregnancies in jails, but according to a report released by Johns Hopkins Medicine in March "believed to be a first-of-its-kind systemic look at pregnancy frequency and outcomes among imprisoned U.S. women," there were 1,396 women who were pregnant at prison intake from 2016 to 2017. Of those, there were 753 live births, 46 miscarriages, 4 still births and 11 abortions, the report states.