The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) has criticized the National Women’s Law Center’s recent analysis of conditions of confinement for pregnant and parenting women as inaccurate, misleading and poorly researched.
According to NJDOC Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan, the composite grade of D- issued to New Jersey in the state-by-state “report card” was based on dubious information that had “no basis in fact.”
The commissioner noted that, in gathering information for its “Rebecca Project for Human Rights,” at no time did National Women’s Law Center representatives contact an NJDOC spokesperson, a staff member of the NJDOC’s Health Services Unit or anyone from the administration at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, which houses the state’s female offender population. Furthermore, Lanigan added, nobody was contacted from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s University Correctional HealthCare, which is contracted to provide medical and mental health services to New Jersey’s offender population.
“We do not know with whom they spoke or where they obtained their facts,” Lanigan said. “Beyond that, they neither checked their alleged facts nor solicited comment on these findings. As a result, we were not in a position to respond to this misinformation until after it was published.
“We are extremely disappointed,” he continued. “This analysis could have been a valuable tool to all of us in the correctional field had it been prepared in a credible fashion. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”
Lanigan noted blatant examples of inaccurate information that can be found in the analysis, including:
* According to the Rebecca Project, the NJDOC does not offer medical examinations as a component of prenatal care. However, every NJDOC inmate has a comprehensive physician intake, which includes history, physical examination and assessment, within 72 hours of arrival. All female inmates are given urine pregnancy testing. Once urine pregnancy testing is positive, confirmatory blood testing is performed, and the patient is enrolled on the pregnancy roster and referred to an on-site obstetrics specialist. Further counseling and testing are provided, as per protocol.
* The analysis alleged that the NJDOC does not perform screening and treatment for high-risk pregnancies. In fact, screening for high-risk pregnancy begins prior to an inmate’s arrival. All pregnant female inmates planned for transfer are reported to Edna Mahan’s medical staff, which reaches out to the corresponding county facility and obtains prenatal care records. The administration at Edna Mahan is advised and updated, as needed. Determination of high-risk pregnancy is made by medical staff. High-risk pregnancies are referred to an on-site obstetrics specialist, and the patient is set up with the high-risk obstetrics clinic at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick.
* Contrary to a claim in the Rebecca Project, all female inmates are HIV tested at intake in accordance with Center for Disease Control published standards regarding testing with an “opt-out” option. Inmates may request testing at any time during incarceration.
* The report says that the NJDOC does not have a policy limiting the use of restraints (shackling) on pregnant inmates. Although there is no NJDOC formal policy, there has been a site-specific policy in effect at Edna Mahan since 2005 that includes a stipulation that no restraints are to be used on women who are in labor.
* Although the analysis states that any NJDOC officer may determine whether a woman qualifies as a security risk, that determination must be made by the administrator of the facility.
“Our objective is to provide adequate care to pregnant offenders,” Lanigan said, “and we have consistently fulfilled that objective.”
Edna Mahan Administrator William Hauck pointed out that the facility avails offenders to a plethora of acclaimed programs specifically designed to emphasize and enhance parenting skills, among them Project Storybook, through which an offender records bedtime stories and sends the cassette home to her child; a mother/child visitation program that provides transportation for children to take part in regularly scheduled visits; and Girl Scouts Behind Bars for offenders and their daughters. The Rebecca Project, however, makes no mention of these initiatives.
“I am, and always have been, very satisfied with the treatment of state-sentenced women who are pregnant,” Hauck said. “I am equally satisfied with the quality and variety of parenting programs available in this facility. My staff and I welcome the opportunity to share this information with anyone who inquires.”