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Can Pregnant Inmates Be Forced to Give Birth in Jail?

Childbirth is stressful. And it's really, really hard. Sure, the experience is also other-worldly miraculous, but between the pain and the uncertainty, pretty much every woman wants to get it over with as quickly as possible to meet that tiny baby who's been breakdancing inside her for months. But as difficult as your standard labor is, imagine giving birth in jail.

Over the years, pregnant women have been forced to give birth in jail, either because their labor progressed too rapidly, or because they were not cared for quickly enough. In a recent case, a Texas woman claims guards actually ignored her cries for help, forcing her to give birth to her son in her jail cell.

What Happens When Sentences Are Ruled Unconstitutional?

The fascinating thing about law is that it's always changing. Whether legislators create new ones or the judiciary clarifies or invalidates existing ones, what was legal yesterday might not be legal tomorrow. This is certainly true in the realm of criminal procedure and criminal justice, where prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and civil rights activists all battle over what justice and public safety look like.

But what happens when the law changes? Does it also change for people convicted before the new law took effect? For example, of interest to the U.S. population living in prison, what happens when sentences are ruled unconstitutional?

Here's a tip: If your 'voluntary' prison work program offers two choices, either work for your toilet paper, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, or face additional criminal charges and 30 days in solitary confinement, it's not really a voluntary work program.

That's just one of the many horrific allegations contained in a lawsuit against the nation's largest private prison operator, CoreCivic, the second third lawsuit to charge the company with human trafficking filed in the past year.

A Reuters investigation into Taser use in just one Ohio jail turned up more than a dozen stun-gun videos that have families of the victims, state legislators, and even United Nations torture experts calling for criminal inquiries into the incidents. Officers at the Franklin County Jail were found to have used Tasers on 80 inmates over the course of two years, 60 percent of whom were classified by the jail as intoxicated or mentally ill.

The revelations have many questioning the limits of Taser and stun-gun use for law enforcement personnel, and whether officers accused of exceeding those limits face any punishment whatsoever.

As many have noted, the rise of the American carceral state has coincided with the demise of slavery, leading many others to note that burgeoning prison populations have replaced forcible servitude based on race. In some ways, this is framed as a positive and redemptive story, like California inmates being paid $1 an hour to fight forest fires. In other, worse ways, it looks more like work at the end of a whip, like extorted labor from inmates at private immigration detention centers.

Either way, few law enforcement officials have so nakedly admitted to wanting to retain inmates as a source of cheap labor as Louisiana Sheriff Steve Prator. In the face of the Bayou State passing a set of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the prison population, Sheriff Prator expressed his interest in keeping "good prisoners" incarcerated: "In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money."

So which inmates should we be interested in releasing, and should the amount or value of their labor factor into that decision?

Two years ago, as fourteen wildfires engulfed almost 250,000 acres in California during a historic drought, we wondered whether prison inmates should really be making up 30 percent of the firefighting force in the Golden State. This week, after 41 fatalities and almost 150,000 scorched acres in Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, the question isn't so much whether inmates should be fighting forest fires, but whether they should be paid more to do so.

The American Bar Association is reporting that almost 4,000 inmates in California are getting paid $1 an hour to clear and maintain fire containment lines. One bonus? For every day spent battling blazes, "incarcerated" fire fighters can shave two days off their prison sentence.

The involvement of private enterprise in the criminal justice system has expanded beyond private prisons to include parole and probation monitoring and rehabilitation services. But one Louisiana judge and private, pretrial supervision company have taken things too far, according to an ACLU lawsuit, charging arrestees an additional fee on top of their posted bail in order to be released from jail.

The suit alleges that Judge Trudy White has forced individuals arrested and held at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to pay Rehabilitation Home Incarceration an extra $525 to secure their release, a process ACLU attorney Brandon Buskey calls "a court-approved shakedown."

A judge out of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an order to the state's prisons to cool down the institutions to 88 degrees. Quoting the great Russian social fiction author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Judge Keith Ellison explained: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Entering a Texas prison, especially during the Summer, might not be much different than entering a sauna. Temperatures, in the areas that do not have air conditioning, regularly soar over 100 degrees. For the inmates that have to suffer through the sweltering heat, the available relief is insufficient. To fight the department that has, for decades, refused to get the inmates out of the heat, a lawsuit had to be filed.

Prison labor is nothing new. Inmates have jobs inside and out, at best to provide some reprieve from the boredom of incarceration and a few dollars in the commissary account, and at worst to provide free or barely-compensated labor to prisons or communities. Inmates, infamously, have even worked in governors' mansions. Much of the justification for prison labor comes from the fact that inmates have been found guilty of a crime and have the option to support their housing and repay their debt to society.

But what about immigration inmates who've not been convicted of a crime? And what about forced or extorted labor for which the inmates are not compensated? And what if all that labor goes to a private prison rather than the public?

A recent federal court decision out of Tennessee is making headlines due to the impact it could have on inmates diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the state's correctional facilities. The decision grants class certification to the lawsuit, which means that the case can proceed to prove the allegations as a class action case and represent the class of over 3,000 inmates with the disease.

The case seeks an institution-wide change to the way inmates with Hepatitis C are treated while in custody. The case alleges that the denial of appropriate medical care is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment, including the denial of medical care or provision of inadequate medical care.