Sheriffs must make sure pregnant woman receive health care in jail, California AG says

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has sent a letter to county sheriffs throughout the state, telling them they need to make sure pregnant women in jail receive the proper health care and that all women get the menstrual products they need.

The letter was sent Friday in response to reports that some counties have failed to provide incarcerated with the proper care, Bonta's office said. 

Bonta asked each sheriff to provide confirmation that they are in compliance with state and federal reproductive health laws. 

Bonta did not specifically call out any jail in particular.

However in Alameda County, KTVU reported in 2018 that 29 women at the time had sued the sheriff in the four years prior, alleging civil rights violations, medical malpractice and emotional distress. One woman sued after she was ordered, but refused, to take off her top in front of men. Another sued after she alleged deputies refused to give her a menstrual pad for more than six hours despite asking for one multiple times. Several other plaintiffs complained of foul odors and unsanitary conditions.

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The biggest allegation came from Candace Steel, who ended up giving birth in a jail cell, despite her pleas to deputies that she was about to have a baby.

This fall, Alameda County paid the 35-year-old mother $250,000. 

At the time, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern denied any mistreatment and he gave Santa Rita an "A" in terms of how he and his staff address women’s needs. 

"I think we’re the best big jail in the nation," Ahern said in a previous interview. 

Bonta said he will also be conducting a review of the jails' performance, to make sure sheriffs are upholding AB 732, which he wrote when he was an Assemblyman, and which was passed into law in August 2020.

Under the law, jails must provide pregnant women with health exams, pregnancy tests, obstetrics exams, followup and prenantal care visits, prenatal vitamins and the consideration of not putting pregnant women in solitary confinement.  

When it's time for a pregnant woman to give birth in jail, the law requires that restraining the mother is not allowed unless it is deemed necessary for the safety of others and pregnant women must be taken to a hospital "in the least restrictive way possible." An incarcerated pregnant woman is also allowed to have a support person present during childbirth and postpartum recovery while hospitalized. 

The law also requires that jails provide breastfeeding opportunities and the availability of menstrual products. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez