'It was an awful experience': Sask. woman shares story of being pregnant behind bars
SASKATOON -- It’s been three years since Raeanne Larocque served time in a women’s jail while pregnant with her fifth child.
She remembers getting regular checkups and ultrasounds in the jail’s medical facility, but said she felt like she had no control over her own pregnancy.
“I couldn’t book my own appointments, they would do it all. It was kind of like, if they say I can do it, then it would get done on their time. My pregnancy wasn’t my choice, it was their choice,” she said.
She said she also had limited choices when it came to food and nutrition and that her health concerns weren’t always taken seriously.
“There were times where I was in pain and I just felt like they ignored me and didn’t care,” Larocque said.
She was in the early stages of her pregnancy when she was sent to Pine Grove Correctional Centre, a provincial women’s jail in Prince Albert.
She served a few months there after pleading guilty to committing theft.
Larocque, who struggles with substance abuse, had never been incarcerated before and describes the experience as isolating and lonely.
“It was an awful experience to have to be pregnant, to be in there. I felt like I had no support. I just felt like they didn’t care,” she said.
“Having to talk with family or anybody else on the outs just made it that much harder, and all of the hormonal changes in me. It was just an emotional rollercoaster.”
Larocque said she also went her full sentence without seeing her common law partner and father of her unborn child, as he has his own history of criminal activity and was unable to visit.
Pregnant inmates get personal plan: province
In an emailed statement to CTV News, justice ministry spokesperson Noel Busse said, “In situations involving a pregnant offender, Corrections works with the offender, the offender’s family, Social Services and healthcare providers to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of the mother and the unborn child.”
He adds that pregnant offenders are provided with the same medical services they would have access to in the community, including regular ultrasounds and other procedures as required.
Corrections also accommodates appointments with medical professionals in the community for complex pregnancies, he said.
Larocque’s sentence ended before she gave birth to her baby girl.
In 2019, nine women gave birth in custody, Busse said. Eight of these were in custody at Pine Grove Correctional Centre and one was in custody at the Women’s Reintegration Unit in Saskatoon.
Women expecting to have their babies while in custody develop a birth plan with Corrections, Social Services and healthcare professionals, he said.
“The mother is the primary decision maker in developing the plan. The plan includes details such as who the mother wants present at the time of delivery and who they would like the child to be placed with once they have given birth,” Busse told CTV News.
He adds that Social Services and Corrections works with the mother if she is involved with child protection services, if she does not have family who can care for the baby, or if the family requests support to care for the child.
This would have been the case for Larocque as she doesn’t have custody of any of her children. She said two are with her family under a mutual agreement and the others were apprehended by child protection services.
Busse said offenders are escorted to the hospital by facility staff to give birth and are only returned to custody once they are cleared to do so by the attending healthcare professional.
He said mothers who are incarcerated at Pine Grove Correctional Centre can use the jail’s Family Visiting Unit for two periods of five days each, per month, for the first three months after a birth, given that they meet the security requirements.
Sentences should be served outside jail, advocate says
More resources are needed for women expecting while behind bars, said Patti Tait, cultural coordinator and regional advocate for the Elizabeth Fry Society.
“There isn’t specific programming available for women that is intensive and can give them the kind of support that they need, especially if they’re having their first child or haven’t parented a child in the past,” she said.
The Elizabeth Fry Society, a non-profit organization that supports incarcerated women, believes women should not be housed in jails or prisons and that there should be community-based resources for them to serve a sentence if necessary.
“They could be in the community in some form of housing that would be supported housing where they might be able to take parenting programs, where they might be able to participate in other healthy programming that would make their journey into the future with this child much more successful,” Tait said.
Larocque said she still thinks about her experience being pregnant while incarcerated.
It wasn’t until she was released that she said she found a program that provided her with the support and addictions counselling she needed.
“I wouldn’t want any girl to have to go through what I went through, especially incarcerated. I believe that the courts should give girls a second chance or the benefit of the doubt because it’s not only the girl, it’s the pregnancy.”
A previous version of this story referred to Pine Grove Correctional Centre as a prison. It is in fact a jail.