A stint in jail is not supposed to include humiliation, disrespect and degradation at the hands of correctional officers.
Yet that was the experience of Julie Bilotta, a 26-year-old prisoner inside the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Guards on duty Sept. 29 ignored her cries for help and refused to believe she was going into labour – until finally Ms. Bilotta was forced to give birth inside her cell. According to Ms. Bilotta’s account, one guard even complained about her emotional state and threatened to place her in isolation if she continued to cry out – then made good on his threat.
The baby, who was born four weeks premature and in a breech position – feet first – and Ms. Bilotta had to be rushed to hospital. The baby was put on a respirator, and the mother underwent a blood transfusion.
Clearly, there is something wrong with the work environment when a prisoner is treated in such an egregious manner. This is not the only case in recent years of correctional and law enforcement officers mistreating and abusing those in their custody and denying them access to proper care. In another recent case, an Ottawa police officer grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off a female prisoner’s bra and shirt, then shot her with a taser. (The officer was charged criminally for his behaviour.)
Such acts have no place in the criminal justice system. The role of guards and officers is to provide safe custody and to prepare inmates for release – not to add to their punishment through inhumane treatment.
In the case of Ms. Bilotta, she is not even serving a sentence but is in pre-trial custody, awaiting proceedings on drug and forgery charges. She did not agree to give up her legal entitlement to health care when she entered the prison.
Her case should prompt officers at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre to revisit their job description. Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services was right to launch an investigation into the regrettable incident. An inmate who complains that she is going into early labour just might be telling the truth. Her life and that of her child should be protected, not endangered.