Friday, October 19, 2012

Woman Gives Birth On Jail Floor In Ottawa As Guards Ignored Her Screams.

A 26-year-old woman in jail at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on fraud and drug charges gave birth to a baby boy on the floor of her cell after her pleas for help failed to convince prison staff that she was in labor.
Bryonie Baxter, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an agency devoted to helping women in conflict with the law, told the Ottawa Citizen that Julie Bilotta begged for help for hours but was ignored by jail nursing staff, who told her she was in false labor. They took her vitals. They told her it was indigestion, Baxter said, adding that jail staff moved the woman to a segregated cell after telling her she was making too much noise

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A group of mothers calling itself the Mother and Baby Coalition for Justice is demanding a full inquiry into what they say is the systemic inhumane treatment of women in the prison system. They say the case of Julie Bilotta, who gave birth last month in an Ottawa jail cell, is just one example of the harsh conditions women endure behind bars. They demonstrated in Ottawa on Wednesday outside the offices of Ontario Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur.

Dawn Moore, an associate professor of criminology at Carleton University who helped organize the demonstration, said Bilotta's case was not an isolated incident.

Bilotta, a 26-year-old from Cornwall, Ont., gave birth prematurely to a boy on the floor of a segregation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Sept. 29.

The woman's mother says Bilotta's screams for help as she went into labor were ignored for hours.

"I need only speak the name of Ashley Smith to remind you that Julie Bilotta was not the first woman to be incarcerated in Canada to have her cries for help ignored and to have guards stand by and watch as her life was put in danger," said Moore.

"And in Ashley's case (her life was) ultimately lost."

Smith was a teenager when she committed suicide on Oct. 19, 2007, while under suicide watch at Ontario's Grand Valley Institution for Women. She was able to strangle herself despite guards watching her on video monitors.

Women who attended the Wednesday protest said they were shocked by the details of the Bilotta case and wondered how such a thing could happen in Canada.

"We have a system in place, things are supposed to work, said protester Jackie Hansen.

"Clearly things didn't work the way they should and it's just horrific what this woman had to go through."

Chanting "mothers and babies belong together," the woman called on Meilleur to do anything in her power to ensure Bilotta is released from prison so she can care for her child.

The minister has maintained that her hands are tied and she cannot interfere in the court process.

She disputed the notion that there is a systemic failure to provide adequate care to inmates, although she has also said that pregnant inmates should expect to receive the same level of care as women in the general population.

The corrections service has started an internal investigation into the Bilotta case.

Bilotta has not been convicted, but is being held for allegedly breaking the conditions of her bail in connection with several fraud and drug charges. Her lawyer expects it could be weeks before she can make another bail request on compassionate grounds.


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