Guardian report: Alabama is jailing pregnant marijuana users to ‘protect’ fetuses

The Guardian reports

At a traffic stop, the police officer found a small amount of weed. Ashley Banks, a 23-year-old woman living in Alabama, admitted to the cops that she had smoked marijuana two days earlier. It was the same day that she learned she was pregnant. She was six weeks along. It was this disclosure – that she was pregnant – that led Etowah county officials to keep her in jail, without a trial, for the next three months.

Alabama has an exceptionally high incarceration rate, locking up about 938 people per 100,000 residents. But even in a state with a disproportionate prison population, an arrest for small-scale drug possession would not usually lead to such an extended pre-trial jail stay. But Banks fell victim to a peculiar Alabama law that advocates say Etowah county enforces with special zeal: pregnant women who are arrested for drug offenses are not allowed to post bail and go free, the way other people are. They have to stay in state custody: either in jail, or in a residential drug rehab program. The logic is that the women are a danger to their fetuses: they need to be imprisoned by the state, and kept from their freedom, in order to protect their pregnancies.

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