After Release of Long-Awaited GAO Report, Rep. Grijalva Condemns Lack of Data and Needed Care for Pregnant Women in DOJ Custody

February 24, 2021
Press Release

TUCSON— Today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released the second part of their investigation entitled: PREGNANT WOMEN IN DOJ CUSTODY U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Prisons Should Better Align Policies with National Guidelines. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in November 2017 to address the treatment of pregnant women in prisons and detention facilities in November of 2017. His original letter was joined by 30 Members of Congress. Since the initial request for an investigation, incidences of abuse and mistreatment of detained pregnant women have persisted, with numerous reports detailing the mishandlings by United States Marshall Services (USMS).                                                                      

“This report is the result of years of work, and I appreciate GAO’s acceptance of my request to investigate this issue and to dig into the details that were not readily available,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Part of the problem is the lack of transparency and sparse data concerning the treatment of pregnant women in our prison systems. Even with this detailed report, it is hard to know the full extent of what these women go through. There is likely a reluctance of some women to come forward about their mistreatment, especially those seeking asylum who experience language barriers, and it is clear that grave gaps in data collection currently exist and this must be corrected immediately. Stories of women being relegated to solitary confinement or shackled during pregnancy or not having access to postpartum time with their babies are barbaric, and we must be absolutely certain this is not occurring anywhere throughout our system. We must ensure facilities are actually complying with what is on paper.”

Some of the concerning GAO report findings include:

  • From calendar years 2017 through 2019, GAO determined that at least 1,220 pregnant women were in USMS custody, and were held an average of 90 days in USMS custody. Of the 1,220 women, 62 percent reported that they were U.S. citizens.
  • From calendar years 2017 through 2019, GAO determined that there were 524 pregnant women in BOP custody for an average of 76 days, a minimum of 1 day, and a maximum of 268 days.
  • USMS policies only fully align on three of 16 care topics and Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policies only fully align on eight of 16.  For instance:
    • USMS policy or Detention Standards do not recommend or require that facilities have emergency delivery kits available, that the hospital in which pregnant women give birth have the capacity to care for high risk pregnancies when available, that staff have procedures to ensure pregnant women with labor symptoms are evaluated quickly, or whether staff should be present in the labor and delivery room.
    • USMS policy or Detention Standards do not recommend or require that pregnant or postpartum women receive any form of diet modification or refrain from eating foods with listeria risk and do not recommend or require that pregnant women receive prenatal vitamins iron, or folic acid supplementation.
  • While USMS requests that facilities submit data indicating which prisoners were placed in restrictive housing, facilities are not required to indicate if any of these prisoners are pregnant or postpartum.
  • USMS policy states that in some instances, medically appropriate nonurgent health care services can be deferred until the prisoner is released from USMS custody, as long as there is no significant health risk to the prisoner.
  • Without taking steps to more closely align its Detention Standards and policies with national guidance recommendations as feasible or appropriate, USMS may be less equipped to protect pregnant women against health risks.
  • Only 3 of the 12 BOP respondents interviewed reported receiving extra portions of food.

“I am grateful these issues have come to light and that DOJ has agreed to act on GAO’s recommendations,” continued Rep. Grijalva. “As a society we must reconsider the need to have so many pregnant women incarcerated in the first place. It is clear that USMS, and to an extent BOP, are not taking the necessary steps to provide pregnant women with the comprehensive care they need to have healthy pregnancy outcomes. To imagine a pregnant woman not being offered something as simple as a prenatal vitamin is an abject failure of our system. The consequences of failing to properly care of this population will ripple through our society.”    

Text of the original investigation request letter can be found here.

The Full GAO report, including recommendations can be found here.

Click here for last year’s GAO report on the treatment of pregnant women in ICE and CBP facilities.    

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