Alabama Woman Gave Birth in Jail Shower After Begging to Go to a Hospital

Ashley Caswell had been jailed for substance use to “protect her unborn child.” When her water broke jail staff told her to “sleep it off," her lawsuit says.

Alabama Woman Gave Birth in Jail Shower After Begging to Go to a Hospital
Etowah County Jail in Alabama Screenshot:Google Maps

On Friday, an Alabama woman named Ashley Caswell filed a lawsuit against Etowah County and the county sheriff’s department nearly two years after she was jailed while pregnant for alleged substance use, and was forced to give birth in the shower, according to the Guardian. Caswell was in labor for 12 hours and nearly died from blood loss before jail staff finally took her to the hospital, her lawsuit states.

Officers from the sheriff’s department arrested Caswell in March 2021 for alleged substance use on chemical endangerment charges because she was pregnant; her jailing at the Etowah County Detention Center, they reasoned, would “protect her unborn child.” Caswell, a mother of other young children, was held there for the next seven months of her pregnancy until, in October 2021, her water broke. She begged to be taken to the hospital but was told to “sleep it off” and wait until Monday (two days later) to give birth. Through Caswell’s 12 hours of labor, she was only offered Tylenol. The lawsuit alleges she lost so much blood, while left alone through her delivery in a jail shower, that she almost bled to death. Caswell is the latest person to report mistreatment at the detention center while pregnant or postpartum.

“Giving birth to my son without any medical help in the jail shower was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. My body was falling apart, and no one would listen to me. No one cared,” Caswell said in a press release shared with Jezebel. “I thought I’d lose my baby, my life, and never see my other kids again.”

Caswell lost consciousness shortly after giving birth, and still, jail staff neglected to offer medical care. Upon finally being taken to the hospital, she was diagnosed with placental abruption and learned she almost had a stillbirth as the condition can result in the fetus being denied oxygen. When she was returned to the jail, her suit claims she was denied her prescribed breast pump and pain medication.

Caswell is represented by Pregnancy Justice and Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization has tracked over 150 “chemical endangerment” cases in Etowah County alone since 2010. While just 2% of Alabama’s population lives in Etowah County, it represents over 20% of pregnancy-related prosecutions in Alabama, which recorded the highest number of pregnancy-related criminal cases in the nation between 2006 and 2022. Chemical endangerment laws in the state are meant to protect born, living children from home meth labs—instead, they’re weaponized by law enforcement in Alabama (and states across the country) to criminalize and jail pregnant people.

“Ashley is the latest victim of the Etowah County Jail, which consistently punishes pregnant women in the name of protecting ‘unborn children’ while simultaneously endangering their lives,” Pregnancy Justice senior staff attorney Emma Roth said in a statement. reported last year that as many as 12 pregnant or postpartum people suspected of substance use were held in Etowah County Detention Center in August 2022 alone. The conditions some of these women have reported are horrific, and include being forced to sleep on the floor after being jailed for alleged marijuana use, and denied sanitary products for bleeding after being jailed within days of giving birth. One woman was jailed for allegedly using substances while pregnant until a pregnancy test she’d initially been denied showed she wasn’t even pregnant.

Caswell is currently serving a 15-year sentence in state prison after being convicted of “Class C” felony chemical endangerment for her substance use while pregnant. As the Guardian notes, conviction on this charge “doesn’t require evidence that the fetus was harmed, but merely exposed to substances.”

“They stripped her of her dignity, violated her constitutional rights, and again showed their callous disregard for mothers and children,” Roth said. “The abuses and violations are numerous, and there is simply no word to describe what she endured other than ‘torture.’”

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