NYCLU Study Finds Lack of Standards Impedes Access to Women's Health Care in New York Jails; Prompts State Action

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 4, 2008 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Women incarcerated in New York State are legally entitled to reproductive health care, but few county jails have policies ensuring access to such care, according to a report released today by the Reproductive Rights Project of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Jail officials shouldn’t be left to guess when making decisions about the health care of women” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “They need clear, comprehensive policies based on law. Otherwise, they are jeopardizing the health of tens of thousands of New York women.”

The report, “Access to Reproductive Health Care in New York State Jails” exposes an uneven patchwork of health care policies in the 52 county jails in New York that house women. Those policies often fail to address the most basic reproductive health services, such as pregnancy testing, prenatal care, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections or access to abortion services. There are more than 3,000 women in New York State jails at any given moment, with women accounting for more than 25,000 admissions a year.

“It’s shocking that there are no uniform health care standards for incarcerated women” said Corinne Carey, the report’s author and an attorney with the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “Individual sheriffs and jail officials shouldn’t have unbridled discretion over whether thousands of women have access to basic reproductive health care.”

Responding to the report, Daniel L. Stewart, State Commission of Correction chairman, issued a memo Monday to county sheriffs and jail administrators advising them to establish comprehensive policies guiding the reproductive health care of female inmates. Stewart’s policy recommendations closely mirror those contained in the NYCLU’s report.

The NYCLU’s report was sparked by the cases of two women who were denied access to abortions while held in county jails. After working with these women, the Reproductive Rights Project researched the reproductive health care policies of all county jail facilities in the state.

Of the 52 counties that housed women, the NYCLU found:

· Fourteen counties responded that their jail facilities had no policies that dealt with any of the issues that we raised.

· No county had a written policy on general OB/GYN care for female inmates.

· No county had any policy or procedure on how to handle the medical needs of women who go into labor.

· Less than half of counties that administer prison facilities for women had policies specifically addressing inmates’ access to abortion, and only 23 percent provided for unimpeded access to abortion services.

· Only three counties had specific written policies regarding the use of restraints on pregnant women, and only two of those policies prohibited the practice.

This report contains a series of recommendations that could be immediately implemented at any county jail so that incarcerated women have access to comprehensive health care. Those recommendations, which the State Commission of Correction substantially adopted in the Commissioner’s memorandum, include developing policies that would:

· Provide routine reproductive health care including, age-appropriate mammography, screening for STIs and pap tests.

· Ensure prompt access to pregnancy testing, prenatal care and abortion.

· Limit the use of restraints on pregnant women.

· Provide mental health services to women following miscarriage, abortion and birth.

· Prepare for the timely transport of pregnant women to appropriate facilities for labor and delivery.

· Allow women to retain physical custody of their newborns while incarcerated.

· Ensure testing, prevention and treatment of HIV and STIs.

“We applaud Commissioner Stewart for quickly addressing this problem” Carey said. “We look forward to working with sheriffs and other county officials to ensure that these recommendations become standard policy in jails throughout the state.”

To read the full report or the New York State Commission of Correction Memorandum, visit

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