Activists allege mistreatment of women, pregnant people in Broome County jail

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Activists accused Broome County of neglecting and mistreating women and pregnant people inside the jail. (Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Activists rallied outside Broome County Court last week, alleging that women and pregnant people are being mistreated in the county jail.

The activists, from Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), read statements from women currently inside the jail. Some women said they have been watched by guards while changing. Others said they’ve been denied access to medications and medical care.

Ella Friday is the women’s issues coordinator for JUST. She said women, specifically black women and women of color, are being dehumanized in the jail.

“People kind of forget, once you’re incarcerated they forget you’re a person, you know? And I think that’s what’s the hardest, because things that you would not find acceptable outside are just kind of allowed,” Friday said.

Friday added that she’s spoken with pregnant women in the jail who aren’t getting regular visits to the doctor, despite being at high risk for pregnancy complications. She said many tell her they don’t even get the protein shakes, or Ensures, that pregnant people are supposed to be prescribed.

Sammie Werkheiser spoke at the rally and runs Mothers on the Inside, a grassroots organization that works with incarcerated mothers. Werkheiser herself was jailed in Broome County in 2013. She was pregnant with twins at the time, and one did not survive.

“I gained 11 pounds during that twin pregnancy. Women at my lunch table would scrape their vegetables into my tray to make sure that my children had nutrients,” Werkheiser said.

Broome County Sheriff David Harder strongly denied all the activists’ allegations.

“They’re not receiving consistent access to medication and medical care? That’s bull. There’s a full nursing staff and a doctor available,” Harder said.

He added that pregnant women have full access to nutrition and medical care, including Ensure shakes.

“They have to be prescribed by a doctor. In fact, they had one female that was pregnant, that was on them, and they had to take her off of it because she got so fat,” Harder said.

He said women at the jail are given frequent access to medical care, with nurses on staff 24/7 and a doctor available almost every day. He said anyone who needs serious medical attention is taken to the hospital, and he strongly denies allegations of voyeurism.

The county legislature approved a contract with a new medical provider for the county jail last week. PrimeCare, based in Pennsylvania, will be paid over $4 million a year for four years, to provide medical care at the jail.

Local activists have criticized the previous provider, CBH Medical, which they say has neglected inmates’ needs and provided poor care. Andy Pragacz of JUST argued that any for-profit medical provider that isn’t based locally is going to be hard to hold accountable.

“They have contracts, you know, multi-million dollar contracts, with these healthcare providers, and there’s no one ensuring that they deliver the care that they’re supposed to deliver,” Pragacz said.

Sheriff Harder said people in the county jail are treated well and have access to prescribed medications and nutritious food. He said it’s too early to know what will change with the new provider, but he expects quality care and treatment.