Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Alabama Prosecutes Women For Drug Use During Pregnancy
NY Times: In Alabama, a Crackdown on Pregnant Drug Users, by Adam Nossiter:
A day after she gave birth in 2006, Tiffany Hitson, 20, sat on her front porch crying, barefoot and handcuffed. A police officer hovered in the distance.
Ms. Hitson’s newborn daughter had traces of cocaine and marijuana in its system, and the young woman, baby-faced herself, had fallen afoul of a tough new state law intended to protect children from drugs, and a local prosecutor bent on pursuing it. She made arrangements for the baby’s care, and headed off to a year behind bars.
“I couldn’t believe it,” recalled Ms. Hitson, who was released in November after spending much of the first year of her daughter’s life at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama.
Two worlds are colliding in this piney woods backcountry in southern Alabama: casual drug use and a local district attorney unsettled that children or fetuses might be affected by it. The result is an unusual burst of prosecutions in which young women using drugs are shocked to find themselves in the cross hairs for harming their children, even before giving birth.
Over an 18-month period, at least eight women have been prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant in this rural jurisdiction of barely 37,000, a tally without any recent parallel that women’s advocates have been able to find. The district attorney, Greg L. Gambril, acknowledges the number puts him at the “forefront,” at least among Alabama prosecutors. Similar cases have come up elsewhere, usually with limited success. But Alabama, and in particular this hilly, remote terrain just above the Florida Panhandle, is pursuing these cases with special vigor.