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Shouting Erupts in Court Over Woman Forced to Give Birth in Jail

A Jail Cell

This week, a shouting match erupted between a Chicago country judge and prosecutor over whether a pregnant woman should have been jailed without bail for more than a month this summer—so long that she had to give birth in prison.

It was an example of a new backlash over the treatment of pregnant women in jail, especially those who are being held because they can’t make bail. 

Judge Nicholas Ford apparently said, “I have every right to hold her,” while First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman argued otherwise. Sussman was infuriated that she had to give birth in jail, especially given that she couldn’t pay fees as she was ordered, saying, “This is not a debtor’s prison you’re running, your honor … and you illegally sentenced her to jail.”

Meanwhile,25-year-old Karen Padilla stood in court with her 3-week-old daughter in a carrier. She had been previously arrested for a traffic violation in February 2016 and then for failing to arrive for court. Part of the problem is the fact that Padilla does not have a driver’s license.

These are the kinds of minor offenses that rack up on top of each other, allowing people of color caught up in the prison system for years.

At a hearing in June, Ford ordered Padilla, who was over seven months pregnant at the time, to be held without bail until her next court date two months later. . According to the Chicago Tribune, “Sussman argued that the judge violated Illinois law when he did not grant her a hearing on the probation violation within two weeks.”

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