Bridging the Gap: Pregnant and incarcerated

Bridging the Gap

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Imagine being pregnant and in jail.

Right now, 10 expectant mothers are doing time at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility in Knox County.

One of them just learned the news, forcing her to come to terms with changes she needs to make.

Thirty-year-old Jessica Linebarger is getting a checkup during a visit with Physician Assistant and Nursing Director Melissa Noel. She finds out how far along she likely is.

Noel tells her, “it looks like you’re probably six to seven weeks.”

Jessica learned she was expecting last week while being booked into the detention facility while getting a drug test. It’s routine to do a pregnancy test, too.

“I mean, I’m excited about it, ” Jessica says, “But obviously, not in here. It worries me because I sit back here, I worry, I stress, that’s not good for the baby. I don’t know…just…a little stressed out.”

Jessica now spends 23 hours a day in a tiny cell with another inmate, with not much to do but keep the room tidy, try to read a tattered book on the bed, and talk.

Jessica was arrested earlier this month for an outstanding violating probation warrant from a 2014 aggravated burglary conviction. It was a crime connected to drugs.

“I was under the influence of benzos and painkillers and one thing led..I didn’t even realize what had happened until I woke up in jail,” she says.

Jessica is one of 10 pregnant women doing time at the detention facility.

Staff says a pregnant woman can cost Knox County up to $15,000. It varies depending on length of stay, how far along an inmate is, and what type of care she needs.

Melissa Noel explains, “if they’ve not had any prenatal care, we will do preliminary lab work here, then we will set them up with an OB on the civilian side and they’ll go to regular appointments, do ultrasounds every other female prenatally would have done.”

There is also mental health support to help inmates like Jessica deal with the anxiety of being pregnant behind bars, and how their drug use may affect their baby.

“I don’t know what my problem is, honestly. I’ve talked to therapists, counselors. I was raised with both parents. I didn’t have a bad childhood, nothing along that line, so I don’t know what the problem is, why I keep going back to doing drugs,” Jessica says, and adds, “I’m to that point in my life – I’m over it. I’m done. Ready to move on, move forward with my life.”

Typically, a baby born to an inmate will be delivered at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. A decision is usually made well before birth on whether to place the baby with a family member, or have the baby adopted. The baby could also be placed in DCS custody.

Some women choose to terminate the pregnancy. If that is their decision, they will be taken to a facility to have the procedure, at their own cost.

(Editor’s Note: Watch for Bridging the Gap stories each Monday night at 6.
We will focus on re-entry programs at the detention facility – the largest jail in East Tennessee and will talk with Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees who work directly with inmates to find out how the programs work and how our community can get involved. If your business is hiring former inmates and wants to be featured on our program, email Lori at ltucker@wate.com.)

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