The Butler County Sheriff will work with lawmakers to draft legislation that would increase penalties for people who sell drugs to pregnant women.
Sheriff Richard Jones and Rep. George Lang said in a Friday news conference that they will work with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association to propose a “substantial increase in the penalty” for people who knowingly sell drugs to pregnant women.
The announcement comes after two women gave birth in less than two weeks in the Butler County Jail. Jones said both babies were born about 10 weeks premature. The babies are in a local hospital and “they look healthy,” he said.
“When these drug dealers, who usually aren’t drug users, sell women that are pregnant drugs or give them drugs, it’s the equivalent … of sticking a needle in the mother’s stomach and sticking it in the baby’s arm before it’s born,” Jones said.
About 80% of women who are incarcerated in Butler County have substance use disorders, according to Jones. Jones said there are currently five women in the jail who are pregnant.
Jones said judges put pregnant women with substance use disorders in jail to try to save the baby’s life.
He said he agrees with what the judges are doing, he “just wishes there was another place to have these women that are very, very pregnant.”
“If they put them out in a community setting, or they put them out on probation or parole … they’re drug addicts, and they’re going to get the drugs in,” Jones said. “The babies will not live.”
The goal of the legislation, Jones said, is to save the life of the baby and the mother.
“We need this to where it’s a serious penalty, not like 20 days more in jail, it needs to be more years in the penitentiary,” Jones said.
Lang said he could have something drafted in four to six weeks, and a bill could be ready to be presented in September.
However, perspectives vary on whether or not holding pregnant women in jail until they give birth is the right way to handle the situation.
When reached for comment, Sasha Naiman, deputy director and attorney at the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, said it is important to treat addiction as a medical issue, stating "incarcering more peopel for longer periods of time does not help a pregnant, substance-addicted woman."
"Addiction is a medical, chronic and relapsing disease...medical and public health experts agree that addiction is an issue of health, not criminality," said Naiman. "We cannot incarcerate our way out of it. Rather than focusing on people who sell alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, illicit drugs or other substances to pregnant women -- potentially endangering the pregnancy or oimpacting the child after birth -- we need to focus on mothers and babies by ensuring pathways to health, safety, treatment, recovery and empowerment."