More than a year after a Department of Correction investigator concluded that a series of missteps led to a teenager giving birth behind bars – and days after her report was made public – neither the DOC nor the governor’s office would say whether the state had implemented reforms to prevent the situation from happening again.
“Unfortunately, we cannot comment about the specifics of the case as it is the subject of ongoing litigation,” Karen Martucci, a spokeswoman for the DOC, said Monday. “However, the Department of Correction takes the wellbeing of all those under its supervision very seriously, and is committed to continually providing the best health care possible.”
A federal judge on Friday ordered a 2018 report by DOC investigator Jennifer Benjamin to be unsealed. The document was part of internal investigation into the February 2018 birth of a baby at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.
According to the report, 19-year-old Tianna Laboy repeatedly told prison staff she had stomach pains in the days before she delivered her baby on Feb. 13, 2018, visiting the infirmary three times. Medical workers did not assess her for preterm labor, tell a doctor about her symptoms or send her to an emergency room, according to Benjamin’s report. Instead, they sent her back to her cell with ice water and a hot rag.
Six days after her first visit to the prison infirmary, Laboy delivered her child in a prison cell toilet. A correction officer found her standing over a pool of blood holding a crying infant. The baby was born about a month premature.
Among Benjamin’s findings were revelations that there was no on-call OBGYN doctor at York, there was no policy requiring nurses and other medical staff to be trained in labor and delivery, and DOC employees did not adhere to best practices for staffing, meaning they did not adequately staff certain shifts.
In preparing her assessment, Benjamin reviewed records and departmental policies, interviewed numerous staff members, and viewed video footage from inside the prison.
Benjamin made several recommendations to help ensure the issues don’t happen again. They include training staff at York Correctional Institution on how to treat inmates in labor and recognize when they are about to give birth preterm; reviewing allocation of staff to ensure four nurses are scheduled for evening shifts; and assessing whether DOC should seek on-call OBGYN services.
Laboy and her mother are suing prison workers, former Correction Commissioner Scott Semple and UConn Health – which until last July was managing inmate health care across Connecticut – alleging denial and delay in care. The contract between DOC and UConn Health was severed amid a flurry of lawsuits and complaints about the quality of medical services in the prisons.
Martucci did not comment Friday when asked about Benjamin’s findings and recommendations. On Monday, she said she still had not read the recommendations and could not discuss the report because of the Laboy’s lawsuit.
“When you hear something like this, you would hope that the parties involved would take prompt corrective action.”
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg
Benjamin’s review was completed in July 2018 and circulated among department officials. It was made public on Friday morning.
The CT Mirror sought a copy of the report earlier this year under a Freedom of Information request, but was denied by the DOC, which claimed the document was in “draft form” and part of an ongoing investigation. Shortly after, lawyers for Laboy filed a motion in court to lift the seal on the report. A judge sided with the lawyers and ordered it released.
“As part of his deep personal and professional beliefs that respect for human dignity is a primary consideration for every policy and action, Commissioner Rollin Cook is steadfastly committed to continually raising the standards by which incarcerated individuals are treated,” Martucci said, declining to elaborate.
Max Reiss, a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, did not address questions about what, if anything, the governor had done to ensure the department took corrective action. Instead, he referred questions to the DOC.
“We’re deferring to our agency,” Reiss said Monday.
DeVaughn Ward, one of Laboy’s lawyers, called on Lamont to get involved.
“Governor Lamont needs to really get a handle on this issue. At the end of the day, the DOC is his administrative agency … and the state needs his leadership on this issue,” Ward said. “I hope that they do find some time to read the report.”
“Governor Lamont needs to really get a handle on this issue. At the end of the day, the DOC is his administrative agency … and the state needs his leadership on this issue. I hope that they do find some time to read the report.”
Hartford Attorney DeVaughn Ward
Lawmakers said that if the DOC fails to act, reforms in the state’s prison system could be addressed through legislation next year.
“When you hear something like this, you would hope that the parties involved would take prompt corrective action,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a co-chairman of the legislature’s public health committee. “If we find that that’s not being appropriately addressed by the time the session starts, we’ll look at it.”
“This is not the first time we’ve heard about suboptimal health care in the prison system,” he added. “It sounds like at the very least, not having an OBGYN on call and not having people trained up is something that really has to be addressed.”
With other pregnant women in prison, lawmakers said the need for reform isn’t going away. There were 12 pregnant inmates as of March, according to an appropriations subcommittee report. There were 22 births between July 18, 2018 and March 29, 2019.
“Under no circumstance should anybody be giving birth in a prison cell,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, House chair of the Joint Committee on Judiciary. “We need to do a better job.”