Pregnant, postpartum prisoners could be released under proposed law

David Heitz
Photo byAlicia Pretesc/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) A representative of an organization that advocates for pregnant people in jail said legislation soon will be introduced in Colorado that would give prisoners more time with their babies.

Lauren Smith, director of policy and advocacy for Soul to Soul Sisters, said the legislation will allow a judge to defer sentencing for pregnant and post-partum prisoners. New mothers could remain out of jail on conditional release for up to a year after their baby is born.

Smith said it’s important for people to bond with their newborns. Sometimes people who give birth in jails only get a day or two with their baby before returning to lockdown. About 30 people per year experience pregnancy in jail in Denver, Smith said.

The state does have a law prohibiting the shackling of a person in labor. But Smith said even the best intentioned programs for pregnant prisoners “aren’t great,” adding staffing is a problem.

Delivering a baby in a jail cell

“While incarcerated, pregnant people have had their complaints of contractions, bleeding and labor ignored and deliver babies in their jail cells or prison cells,” according to a fact sheet on the legislation that Smith shared last week during a Task Force to Reimagine Policing meeting. “A pregnant person also can experience harmful medical conditions such as an ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, or placental abruption which can cause long-term physical and mental health trauma for the pregnant person.”

In 2020, a person was forced to give birth in their cell alone at the Denver County Jail on Smith Road. She ended up winning settlements for herself and her young son from the city and Denver Health totaling almost $500,000, according KDVR. Documents obtained by the station showed Diana Sanchez begged jail deputies and nurses for hours for medical help. But even after her water broke, no one called an ambulance until after the baby was born.

Criminals still can be ‘caring, loving parents’

The fact sheet said the legislation will be sponsored by Reps. Jennifer Bacon and Judy Amabile.

Smith said just because someone broke the law “it doesn’t mean they’re not caring, loving parents.” Pregnant people who are incarcerated should be “humanized and uplifted,” Smith said.

The task force agreed to sign a letter of support for the legislation, which hasn’t been introduced yet. Task force member Terence Hughes said some lawmakers might oppose the bill on financial grounds. Smith said some people believe the baby will be better off if the mother remains in jail, especially if there have been substance abuse problems.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

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