By Tana Ganeva
Last year, Tennessee became the first state to define drug use during pregnancy as a crime. Women whose newborns test positive for narcotic drugs can be charged with assault and punished with up to 15 years of prison.
When critics of the measure — which included everyone from addiction counselors to doctors to Obama’s drug czar — pointed out that terrorizing pregnant addicts with the threat of prison would not be helpful in the treatment of their condition, supporters shot back that they didn’t want to put women in jail; the law would merely allow prosecutors to help push women into rehab.
Since the law went into effect in July, most of the women charged with assault for drug use during pregnancy have been placed in treatment programs. Still, as a Nation investigation found, doctors and counselors who work with pregnant addicts also say many women have begun avoiding prenatal care because they’re scared of going to jail. Some have fled the state to give birth.
It looks like their fears are warranted. On Thursday Jamillah Falls, the second woman in the state to be charged with assault after her newborn tested positive for heroin, was sentenced to six months in prison, reports WREG. Her child is with the Department of Children’s services, according to the report. A spokesman for the Shelby County prosecutor’s office tells AlterNet that Falls failed to complete the terms of her probation.
Cherisse Scott, founder of the reproductive rights advocacy group SisterReach, doesn’t know how Falls allegedly violated her probation, but notes that she’s had an exceedingly hard time in the program. After a 28 day detox, Falls was placed at a halfway house in an unsafe neighborhood. She was reportedly stressed out about the criminal charge that hung over her head and heartbroken to be separated from her baby. She had to find a job to stay in the halfway house, no easy feat given that her face had been splashed all over local news as “pregnant heroin addict.” Scott says Falls was desperate to find work, even calling her up to see if she had anything at her organization.