A recent article in the New York Times brings attention to the actions of a local prosecutor in Andalusia, Alabama, with a rural jurisdiction of barely 37,000. District attorney, Greg L. Gambril, has overseen at least 8 prosecutions of women for using drugs while pregnant. According to the article, this tally has no recent parallel that women’s advocates have been able to find.
According to Gambril, “When drugs are introduced in the womb, the child-to-be is endangered. It is what I call a continuing crime.” He continues, “No one is to say whether that environment is inside or outside the womb.”
Similar cases have come up elsewhere, like in Maryland and New Mexico, but with limited success. Arguments in these cases had to do with the punishment not being a deterrent and whether a fetus was considered a child. Many argue that we still do not truly know the effects drug use has on a fetus and pregnant women.
These arguments have not been heard, or even made, in Alabama. Women are not appealing their convictions, and lawyers and doctors talk about these cases reluctantly, if at all. The mother of a woman jailed for a year after giving birth to a daughter who had cocaine and marijuana in her system blames the town’s reputation of being a “meth town” on the fact that there’s nothing for the youth to do in town.
“In Covington County, I don’t think they’re interested in helping mothers,” one of the women sent to jail said. “They’re just sending people straight to prison. It doesn’t help their drug problems.”
Seems like these women, their babies, and the town itself could benefit from some good substance abuse treatment. Treatment works and would save money otherwise spent dealing with the consequences of jailing women with the disease of addiction.
Read the full article from the New York Times: In Alabama, a Crackdown on Pregnant Drug Users