Relatives of a woman who gave birth weeks early in the Macomb County Jail say the delivery was improperly handled and want to see changes in how pregnant women receive medical treatment behind bars.
Jessica Preston was about eight months pregnant when she was arrested the week of March 15, 2016, in Warren for driving on a suspended license, according to Sheriff Anthony Wickersham. Unable to post a $10,000 bond, she remained jailed.
She was scheduled to undergo a C-section in April since she had complications delivering her first child, said Tina Chastain, the newborn’s paternal grandmother.
Preston alerted jail personnel, though, later in March about what she believed were labor pains, Chastain said. “She went to them four times telling them she was in labor.”
Wickersham said his staff evaluated Preston at least twice before the delivery and “didn’t believe she was in labor … and she was sent back upstairs” to her cell.
When Preston complained about labor pains again on March 20, she was brought to the jail infirmary and placed in a holding cell as nursing staff evaluated her, he said. “They were on the phone, I understand, with the doctor, at which point the baby started to come. Medical staff helped deliver it. The ambulance was called and she went to the hospital.”
Wickersham said she delivered on a mattress placed on the floor of the infirmary cell.
Adding to the family’s distress, Chastain said, was that Preston’s family was not alerted until after she gave birth to Elijah, who weighed less than 5 pounds. The mother then remained in custody at McLaren Macomb hospital in Mount Clemens.
Relatives were allowed in the next day, Wickersham said, but Chastain is adamant her son had always hoped to be present to cut the baby’s umbilical cord.
“How could they let that happen?” Chastain said. “How would they feel if it was their mother, sister, cousin, aunt? Actually, that probably would never have happened.”
The family is sharing their story with the media in hopes of seeking change at the Mount Clemens facility.
The situation is “disgraceful,” Chastain said. “It shouldn’t have happened. She should have been sent to the hospital to have that baby.”
Wickersham said the baby arrived unexpectedly and before medical staff could decide to send Preston to the hospital. Such a case is rare, he said.
The sheriff estimates three to five women go into labor while behind bars at his facility, but “the majority of those will end up in the hospital for the delivery.”
Even if Preston had reached the hospital to deliver, Wickersham pointed out, relatives would not have been allowed in the room while she remained under guard.
Chastain still believes personnel could have acted quicker. “They need a doctor or a nurse practitioner on staff there 24-7. That would’ve helped a lot.”
As many as 22,000 inmates reach the jail each year, Wickersham said, and his staff works to expedite treatment for those with the most serious medical issues. “We take care and custody of inmates seriously,” he said. “Everything that my staff did and that the medical staff did was within procedures.”
But Chastain begged to differ — citing the 2014 death of David Stojcevski, 32, after serious withdrawals from drug use while serving a 30-day sentence for careless driving. Last year, federal prosecutors declined to file criminal or civil charges, saying evidence did not support them.
“There needs to be change,” Chastain said. “No matter what a person goes to jail for, they’re still a human being and still have civil rights.”