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Bill seeks to improve conditions of pregnant inmates

DOWNTOWN — A jail cell is never a good place for a woman to be when she’s pregnant. But Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia is doing what she can to guarantee pregnant inmates will have the maximum chance of delivering healthy babies while in St. Louis jails.

Ingrassia introduced a bill at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting that would require the city provide for the health of pregnant inmates. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Ward 15 Alderman Megan Green and Ward 27 Alderwoman Pam Boyd, said the city must provide adequate nutrition and clothing as well as sufficient access to prenatal care and other pregnancy-related health services. 

The city also would have to limit restraints used on inmates during their pregnancies and post-partum period. And the city would have to ensure that they have all the feminine hygiene supplies they need. 

The city is already doing some of what the bill requires, Ingrassia said. There are some new segments, she said. 

“One of St. Louis’s biggest problems and challenges is a high infant mortality rate among people of color and low-income women,” Ingrassia said. “This would hopefully make sure that while women are in the custody of the City of St. Louis, that we’re doing our very best to make sure that they’re healthy while they’re carrying babies.”

Ingrassia said she’s been following what’s been happening on the national level and what other states are doing. She’s also been working with a group of people and organizations that are interested in the issue.

The city’s correction staff is in favor of the bill as it now stands, said Koran Addo, communications director for the office of Mayor Lyda Krewson.

However, since bills change in significant ways before they’re finally approved, it’s too early for the mayor’s office to comment, he said. 

As of Friday, a total of 89 women were confined in the city’s medium security institution. But all city inmates, women or men, start in the Criminal Justice Center downtown, Addo said.

The bill also calls for pregnant inmates to receive nondirective counseling and written material on pregnancy options, including general material on healthy pregnancies, prenatal nutrition, labor and delivery, the post-partum period and the institution’s policies for pregnancy.

Under the proposal, at least one member of the medical staff of the city’s medium security institution must be trained in pregnancy-related care and must have knowledge of prenatal nutrition, how to manage high-risk pregnancies, and appropriate treatment for patients  with addiction and substance abuse issues during pregnancy and childbirth.

If a medical provider trained in pregnancy care says a pregnancy is high risk, an inmate would be transferred to the infirmary or a hospital.

After giving birth, inmates would stay in a hospital without restraints, unless a corrections officer or sheriff determines there are “extraordinary circumstances” under which an inmate poses in immediate, serious threat to herself or others or that the inmate might escape without them.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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