What started as a shouting match in a Chicago courtroom last year is now on the verge of shaping state policy for pregnant women in jail awaiting trial, the Chicago Tribune reports. The contentious case inspired a bill — passed last week by the Illinois House and Senate — that seeks to reduce the likelihood that expectant mothers charged with nonviolent offenses will be held in jail as they wait for their cases to be tried. The measure, which requires judges to hold additional hearings before ordering a pregnant woman held in jail, has reached Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk. “This is commonsense and compassionate public policy, and I hope that (Rauner) signs it quickly,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who sponsored the bill.
Cassidy filed the bill after learning about a Chicago woman who gave birth in June while in jail. The woman, Karen Padilla, was seven months pregnant when Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford revoked her bond on a theft case after she was pulled over for a traffic violation and police noticed a warrant for her arrest. Eric Sussman, then second in command of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, helped get Padilla released and got into a shouting match with Ford. “Having three kids myself, I know it is a critical, critical period for a child to be with his or her mom,” said Sussman. “I was shocked that this was going on, particularly for a nonviolent, low-level offender who was essentially pulled over for having a nonfunctioning headlight.” The bill requires judges to find an alternative — such as electronic monitoring, placement in a drug-treatment facility or personal-recognizance release — for women likely to give birth while in custody. The Cook County jail housed more than 300 pregnant detainees between April 2016 and May 2017. Seventeen gave birth in custody.