‘She needed a higher level of care’

Dr. Jacquelyn Starer, the physician from Massachusetts, said that overall it sounds like Jen was “horribly mistreated,” adding that the tragedy could have been avoided if the authorities had looked for alternatives to incarceration.

“She needed a higher level of care,” Starer said, “and it sounds like whatever level of care she received made her problems worse.”

Considering his family’s background in law enforcement, John Jr. said he appreciates that his sister needed to be held accountable for her crimes, of which she was evidently guilty. But he also believes there’s a right and wrong way to run a jail.

“I believe that what happened with my sister was that nobody was paying attention, and once they found her in cardiac arrest it was too late,” he said. “People were careless. You’re going to have people walk away from their post. They’re not owning up to anything that went wrong.”

Dr. Jody Rich, the director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University, suggested Jen’s death should raise questions about the decision to hold her in jail as much as about the quality of care she received there.

“Jen’s death should prompt people to ask themselves if society did right by her in processing her through the criminal justice system,” Dr. Rich said. “Apparently, she did break the law,” he said, “and yet, the blind enforcement of the law in this instance resulted in the most tragic outcome of all.”

Melissa Godwin, the clinical instructor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, said she would like to see individuals in jail have better access to buprenorphine and other medications approved to treat opioid addiction — both for the health of the women who are incarcerated and their pregnancies.

“That does jeopardize the pregnancy, and that is what frequently happens in the jail: Pregnant women are forced to go into withdrawal, which does create potential complications for the pregnancy,” she said.

“I think it would be terrific if that issue were looked at in all 100 counties in how those services are provided to not just pregnant women, but all people who are coming in and having that aspect of health addressed, as well as high blood pressure and other conditions,” Godwin added.

In broad strokes, there’s a growing cry for more treatment and less incarceration.

“The take-home for me is, we need more treatment of addiction, we need more alternatives to incarceration, we certainly need more services for pregnant women with addiction, and we need more examination of what actually works,” Dr. Rich said. “Even if she had not been pregnant and had not died, it is unlikely that her time incarcerated would have stopped her from relapsing to drug use — in fact, it likely would have made things much worse than if she had gotten good quality addiction treatment and support.”

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