‘I'm not delivering my baby in a court cell’: pregnant in prison | True Justice

New Zealanders love true crime. But real life isn’t that straightforward. True Justice is a five-part podcast series that shares the stories of those who have been through our prisons, and advocates for a more just justice system in Aotearoa.

In Episode 3: Survival, we hear about medical and mental health support in prison.

Becca was eight months pregnant and at the Auckland Central cells when her waters broke. 

“I yelled out to the police ‘I'm in labour, my waters are breaking’.”

At the time of this story, Becca was heavily pregnant, trying to manage an addiction, and due to be seen in court on charges of stealing mail. 

“And they said ‘Bullshit, you're not in labour, you're just trying to fake it. You've got a history of faking medical’.”

Becca told the guards, “Look down, my waters are breaking”. She says their response was “Get up on the table, we'll deliver your baby then.” 

“And I said, ‘I'm not delivering my baby in a court cell.’”

Even though these cells were pretty familiar to Becca at this point in her life, she didn’t want to have a baby there. 

She was taken to Auckland Hospital. “My mother, my godmother and my mother's partner had tried to come up and support me, but they were turned away because they weren't approved visitors,” Becca says.

Then two officers came to Auckland hospital, and said they wanted her transferred to Middlemore Hospital.

So Becca was handcuffed and driven to Middlemore Hospital.

True Justice asked Corrections about the decision to move a labouring woman between hospitals, and they said there’s nothing in their policy that explains why this might have happened. 

“I got put in a room and handcuffed to the bed,” Becca says, “and then I stayed in labour for another two nights. I stayed at Middlemore and then the baby wasn't coming.”

So they sent her back to prison.

A few days later, Becca says, “I was in agony, I’d started to bleed.”

At this point, she had been in labour for days. And finally she was sent back to hospital. 

“I was in and out of labour for like 10 days. And different guards would come up every eight hour shift.” 

She was handcuffed to the bed, and if she needed to go to the toilet or the shower, she would be put on a long handcuff. 

At this point Becca was really struggling. So she asked for the father of her baby to be let in to see her.

“He was an approved visitor but he had done four years at a prison. He wasn't allowed to be up at the hospital. I had to fight with lawyers and the PCO [principal corrections officer] of the prison to get him to be up there to support me during my labour.”

Then all of a sudden the doctors figured out there wasn’t much water left around the baby… and things got more urgent.

“And then it had become dangerous. So they decided to give me an emergency C-section. But the baby's father wasn't allowed in the delivery room. So I remember being handcuffed to the bed when they were putting me to sleep.”

“And then I just remember waking up and being handcuffed to the bed and on a drip, in so much pain because I had a caesarean and didn't know, and they told me about my complications and I didn't know if my baby was alive, or where my baby was.”

Confused, scared, and handcuffed to her hospital bed, Becca eventually figured out what had happened. Her baby had come four weeks early, and had a collapsed lung, so she’d been rushed off to the neonatal intensive care unit.

The next day Becca was allowed to visit bub, along with two guards.

“I was on morphine, or whatever it is for the pain. So it's all pretty blurry. But I remember going out the back corridors. And I couldn't hold my baby because she was on tubes and stuff like that.”

“So from there, they said, ‘You don't need to be at hospital anymore. We'll look after your medical needs back at prison.’ And then my baby's father had come up. And he wasn't allowed to see me again. But he took baby's placenta away. And I was pushed downstairs in my wheelchair and then handcuffed and put in the paddy wagon and taken back to prison.”

Every year up to 10 babies are born in New Zealand prisons. Some prisoners with babies and children up to the age of 24 months are even able to live with their children in self-care units.

And there are detailed policies in place for dealing with everything from prenatal care to childbirth to aftercare.

But sometimes policy isn't followed, or is misinterpreted, and sometimes urgently-needed policy change takes way too long to happen. 

Like Becca being handcuffed during her caesarean. As far back as 2004, the Ombudsman was condemning the handcuffing of pregnant and labouring women as “particularly unreasonable and unwarranted”. But it continued for more than 15 years.

But even in 2015, when Becca went into labour, the policy actually did say that mechanical restraints were not to be used on women in labour in any circumstances.

In 2021, the policy was updated, after a Stuff investigation brought the continued handcuffing of pregnant and labouring women to light.

When announcing the new policy, Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot said: “Our previous policy was not fit for purpose and did not take into account the added stress that could be caused for expectant mothers.”

From then on, Corrections staff were instructed not to use handcuffs on women 30 weeks pregnant or more, or in labour. 

To hear more stories from people who’ve been to prison in New Zealand, listen now to True Justice, a five-part podcast series that shares the stories of those who have been through our prisons, and advocates for a more just justice system in Aotearoa.

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community. 
  • Alcohol Drug Helpline: call 0800 787 797 or free text 8681 for a free, confidential text conversation
  • Alcohol Drug Māori Helpline: 0800 787 798 for advice and referral to kaupapa Māori services
  • Alcohol Drug Pasifika Helpline: 0800 787 799 for advice and referral to services developed for Pacific people
  • Alcohol Drug Youth Helpline: 0800 787 984 for advice and referral to services for young people