Whitmer announces policy directive to expand maternal health care for prisoners

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced a new policy directive Tuesday to guarantee needed medical resources to pregnant and postpartum inmates and their children. 

The directive codifies many practices already in place at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility — Michigan’s only women’s prison — but introduces new policy around restraints and breastfeeding their newborns. 

 

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Heidi Washington, director of MDOC, said:

“We are pleased to be able to build upon our past practices and policies to further enhance our commitment to providing a safe experience for women who come to us while pregnant and are under our care and supervision. Our staff at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility take great pride in the services they provide to ensure pregnant and postpartum inmates have their physical and mental health needs met during this time. These policy enhancements will further that commitment and continue to make Michigan a national leader in this and so many other corrections-related areas.” 

One of the practices currently implemented include supplying every pregnant inmate with a health care professional to help develop their birth plan. MDOC said birth plans will respect the autonomy of the inmate and allow them to make their own choices. 

Another codified practice includes continued access to medication for prenatal treatment and medication assisted treatments for substance use disorder (SUD) when appropriate. 

Chris Gautz, public information officer for MDOC, said one of the biggest changes is the clarification on when an inmate in labor can and cannot be restrained. He said women will be unrestrained during the entire labor process from transportation to leaving the hospital, unless there is an “unusual” circumstance. 

“By and large, they would not be restrained at all while they are at the hospital and while they are in labor.”

Before this directive, the policy held inmates in restraints whenever in transport and restrained in the bed after labor. Gautz said though inmates have tried to escape and assault staff in transportation, escaping is not at the top of mind for mothers in labor. 

“They are giving birth and they are going through an intense experience, and so there is no need to have them physically restrained. Escape is not what they are thinking about right now. We can understand that and reflect that in our policies and practices.”

Other big changes revolve around visitation. Before this directive, only a family member could be with the mother during labor. Commonly, the new fathers who are not married to the mother giving birth are not allowed in the room during labor. The new rule allows anyone to be with the mother but is subject to approval by the prison. 

Mothers also can visit with their newborn and breastfeed during the newborn’s visit to the prison. The directive allows access to pumping equipment to be able to breastfeed during those visits, no matter when the mother’s sentence ends. 

Before, mothers who were still going to be in prison past their baby’s breastfeeding years were given medication to inhibit their ability to expel breast milk. The new rule allows all mothers to give their children their breast milk to help both the mother and child’s nutrition and mental health needs, said Gautz.

This directive will be implemented starting Nov. 22 to give the staff who work with mothers enough time to properly train and learn the logistics of the new rules.

There are currently two women within Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility who are pregnant. Gautz said if those women give birth before Nov. 22, the new rules will still be followed.