A woman who gave birth to her baby alone on the dirty concrete floor of her jail cell after six hours in labour claims her screams for help were ignored by staff.
Jazmin Valentine is suing the company that provided medical staff to Washington County jail in Hagerstown, Maryland, alleging nurses from Pennsylvania-based PrimeCare Medical, Inc, said she was withdrawing from drugs and was not in labour, and some jail staff laughed at her and said she was just trying to get out of her cell.
Ms Valentine claims she punched the walls of her solitary confinement unit, which lacked blankets or sheets, during her most painful contractions and removed what she believed was her baby’s amniotic sac and slid it under her cell door to prove she was having a baby.
A fellow inmate who heard the woman’s pleas and called Ms Valentine’s boyfriend, who called the jail to plead with staffers to help her, the lawsuit said.
The nurses also ignored a concern raised by a jail deputy about Ms Valentine but he did not contact any superiors, according to the lawsuit.
He discovered Ms Valentine holding her baby girl in her cell around 15 minutes after she was born just after midnight on 4 July, 2021 and an ambulance was called to take them to hospital, the court documents say.
Ms Valentine, who had never given birth before, said she feared her baby would die and she might bleed to death while delivering her.
But realising no one was going to help her, she said she was determined to try to deliver the baby on her own.
“In my brain anything could happen,” she said. “I felt like I was in the hands of the devil, honestly.”
The lawsuit alleges Washington County, Maryland, its sheriff department and sheriff, as well as nurses and deputies at the jail, violated Ms Valentine’s rights under state law and the US Constitution.
Ms Valentine was more than eight months pregnant when she was arrested for an alleged probation violation and taken to the jail the day before she went into labour, according to the lawsuit.
She was released several days later and her baby is doing well, she said.
The claim is similar to another filed in 2019 by a woman who gave birth alone in Denver’s jail the year before – who claimed nurses and deputies ignored her cries for help during five hours of labour.
Surveillance footage showed Diana Sanchez crying out in agony before eventually lying on a narrow bed.
The footage was released by the same law firm which is now representing Ms Valentine.
After Ms Sanchez delivered her baby the Denver County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, said it changed its policy to ensure pregnant inmates who are in any stage of labour are immediately taken to hospital. Decisions about whether to move a pregnant inmate were previously left to jail nurses.
David Lane, whose law firm is involved in both cases, said he believes they highlight problems of privatising health care behind bars and the attitudes of correctional administrators.
“As long as jail and prison administrators view inmates as animals these kinds of things will continue to happen,” he said.