Nearly 5 percent of young women booked into county detention centers or jail tested positive for pregnancy in 2017, leading two members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to push Tuesday for more resources aimed at improving their care and reducing those numbers.
The 50 young women ranged in age from 14 to 19, though nearly three-quarters were 17 or 18 years old. Their alleged offenses ranged from petty theft to one charged with murder.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn co-authored a motion recommending more attention to the needs of young women dealing with pregnancies while in custody and a focus on diverting girls who are eligible into community-based programs.
"Much has been done to enhance the care and treatment of adult women who are incarcerated and pregnant. Today, we turn our attention to incarcerated pregnant girls by improving the care they receive while in our custody," Solis said. "Whenever possible, these young girls should be given the tools and skills they need to successfully be diverted back to the community so they can safely parent and finish their education."
A Women's Health Department was set up in 2017 to oversee obstetrical and gynecological care of women jailed at the Century Regional Detention Facility. It remains difficult to provide care, in part because scheduling clinic visits can be difficult and court dates and security lock-downs can interfere, according to a July report by the Department of Health Services to the Board of Supervisors.
Best practices include pregnancy screening at intake, initiating withdrawal or alternatives for those dependent on opioids, on-site ob-gyn care, support for breastfeeding and elimination of restraints during labor and delivery.
In addition to advocating for women and girls to receive quality medical care and understand their rights as parents, the DHS report highlighted the need for specialized mental health services.
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"We are going to put more resources towards keeping pregnant girls out of our custody in the first place," Hahn said. "However, until all pregnant girls are diverted from detention facilities, we need recognize that those in our custody are also in our care and must have access to the resources they need to stay healthy."
One minor gave birth while in custody and 35 female inmates delivered babies in 2017, according to county data.
A report with a draft strategy for reducing the number of pregnant youth in custody and improving care is expected back in six months.
"L.A. County has services that can help incarcerated pregnant girls heal from the trauma they've endured in their young lives," Solis said. "I am committed to helping these vulnerable girls break free from the cycle of poverty."