A number of months into Lia McKeown’s first being pregnant whereas working as a corrections officer with the California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), she requested to vary roles. Her job had change into too bodily demanding, and he or she wanted a place with much less every day motion and extra predictability.
For years, the CDCR had a “cheap lodging” coverage that allowed pregnant corrections officers to switch roles throughout their pregnancies whereas retaining their pay and advantages. However in 2015, the division instituted a brand new coverage forcing pregnant officers to remain in bodily arduous and harmful positions — or threat shedding their jobs, a class-action lawsuit alleges.
Roughly 300 corrections officers, together with McKeown, have signed onto the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Courtroom in 2019. The plaintiffs are accusing the division of being pregnant discrimination, alleging they suffered miscarriages and misplaced wages when the coverage was eradicated.
In 2020, CDCR restored the lodging coverage, however the lawsuit is ongoing. Right here, McKeown displays on the distinctive challenges and indignities of working in a jail whereas pregnant.
The first time I used to be pregnant whereas working as a corrections officer for the California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I used to be carrying my daughter, who’s now 13. I had not too long ago began working at California Medical Facility, a jail in Vacaville that homes males who’re getting old or bodily or mentally in poor health.
For the primary two years working as a corrections officer, you rotate round to get extra expertise all through the establishment. I’d go from working in a regular housing unit — the place I’d unlock cells every day through the every day depend — to working in a housing unit for inmates with psychological well being wants.
Being a corrections officer is a bodily demanding job generally. On the time, the jail was approach over capability. Should you put a bunch of individuals in that state of affairs, they’re finally going to combat one another. Fights would get away over something, from medicine to lovers.
The employees additionally will get attacked. I’ve had feces, meals and what I feel was urine thrown at me. I’ve had inmates combat principally on high of me, throwing punches throughout my face. I’ve had inmates masturbate of their cells whereas saying probably the most grotesque, vulgar issues. I’ve damaged up fights over medicine and soccer video games. All of this occurs from the day you stroll in, till the day you stroll out.
I bear in mind the day I made a decision to go on what is named “first watch,” a shift that begins at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. the subsequent day. I used to be 5 months pregnant with my daughter and had simply began exhibiting. I used to be escorting new inmates off the bus to their cells. Although we didn’t know what degree of safety they had been being assigned to, they didn’t should be handcuffed as they walked down the hall.
One of many males I escorted mentioned he had by no means seen an establishment like this, the place there was a lot combating. After all, I knew there was combating; I’d seen it day by day. However when another person calls it out, it makes it extra actual. At that second, I noticed I used to be placing myself and my child in peril and that I wanted to discover a totally different place inside the jail.
The primary watch shift is a double-edged sword. There isn’t a mass motion; everyone seems to be locked of their cell. However you are additionally alone. In the course of the evening, there are far fewer employees to answer an incident.
I bear in mind bringing in a health care provider’s notice saying I used to be pregnant. I don’t suppose there was any written being pregnant coverage on the time for corrections officers in California, however I simply figured, like with any job, you usher in a notice to say “That is what my limitation is,” and the corporate has to determine it out.
On the time, I used to be nonetheless on apprenticeship standing, which implies you don’t get a elevate if you happen to don’t end. “OK, let’s simply take this month by month,” I’d inform myself. “Let’s simply see how far you possibly can go.”
When the management realized I used to be pregnant, a sergeant got here into my workplace and handed me a bit of paper. “It’s important to signal this since you’re a legal responsibility,” I bear in mind him saying.
The paper said that if something occurred to you or your baby whereas working within the jail, you’re liable for it. I bear in mind pondering that I had by no means seen anyone else as pregnant as I used to be on the road in any respect. All the pregnant ladies went to the mailroom or to the payroll division.
I labored up till the day earlier than my daughter was born. I used to be large, and there was no precise being pregnant uniform. On the time, we had jumpsuits that zipped within the entrance. So I’d put on my jumpsuit totally open as a result of I couldn’t zip it over my stomach. I’d put my work jacket over the jumpsuit and zip that up.
The second time I used to be pregnant whereas working at a jail, it was with my son, who’s now 6.
I went to our union reps to say that I used to be going to get one other notice from my physician letting the division know I used to be pregnant. This time, the union informed me that management wouldn’t acknowledge my request for a distinct position. Jail management now not moved anyone into a distinct job. I must keep on the road once more.
This time, I simply figured issues out for myself. I labored double shifts up till I used to be 5 months pregnant, after which I put myself on “first watch” once more. Throughout my second being pregnant, there have been inmates who would discover I used to be pregnant and ask, “What are you doing right here?” Or they’d shake their heads as if to say, “That is loopy.”
I used to suppose individuals in higher administration would intervene. I used to suppose they’d see me and my pregnant stomach and say, “Hey, perhaps we should always do one thing about this earlier than one thing really occurs.” However that by no means occurred.
There isn’t a official coaching for corrections officers about what to do when pregnant. Nobody ever informed me about any lodging. After I gave start, I used all of my very own day without work for maternity depart. I took 5 weeks with my first baby as a result of that’s all I had. I had 4 months with my second, and used all of my and my companion’s day without work. (He’s additionally a corrections officer.)
The one change I used to be allowed to make was sporting my shirt untucked once we acquired two-piece uniforms. I nonetheless needed to put on all of my tools: an alarm, a key ring, a baton, pepper spray and a radio. The keys alone are very heavy as a result of we have now to open 235 units of doorways. Altogether, I feel the tools weighs 11 to fifteen kilos.
Some of the tough features of being pregnant in jail is coping with the smells. Among the guys don’t bathe. Others on the psychological well being facet gather issues. I’ve had inmates gather feces and lie in it or smear it from head to toe. Typically inmates get sick, and we’d nonetheless should depend as they had been throwing up.
The third time I used to be pregnant working in a jail, I miscarried.
I used to be working in a dorm with the final inhabitants. A lieutenant informed us we needed to do a mass search of the cells. Most of the guys in my dorm had been in wheelchairs, which some used to move medicine across the jail. So we had been searching for something drug-related of their cells. One of many methods they hid the medicine or needles was by rolling the gadgets up in a brown paper towel after which taping them to the again of the heavy steel lockers of their cells.
Through the search, I moved one of many lockers. Inside an hour, I felt great again ache. I stuffed out an incident report kind as a result of I believed I had injured my again. However I used to be miscarrying. I bear in mind moving into the automobile to depart my shift. I used to be profusely sweating. As a substitute of driving dwelling, I drove myself to the hospital.
It was early within the being pregnant, and I wouldn’t have requested the jail for any lodging as a result of I knew the drill. Like with my earlier pregnancies, I had deliberate to vary roles later. I believed the dorm I used to be assigned to was nice as a result of it was principally older males with bodily disabilities. I believed it was a safer place for me to be, nevertheless it wasn’t.
The final time I used to be pregnant whereas working as a corrections officer was with my daughter, who’s now 3.
I bear in mind responding to an alarm with one other officer on responsibility. I used to be two months alongside on the time. We needed to enter the cell of an inmate who simply needed to combat. I had bruises from my thigh to my ankle. However my co-worker was harm the worst.
This was my final being pregnant. I knew nobody was going to accommodate me or do something. I simply bear in mind pondering, Right here we’re once more.
I do know for certain that working in prisons isn’t a person’s job, and it’s not a girl’s job, both. Many ladies work in corrections to be able to make a life for themselves and their households. For years, prisons didn’t even rent ladies. So the management by no means had to consider what to do with pregnant officers.
Typically I take into consideration how a lot worse it is perhaps to be pregnant whereas working in a jail in different states. And I take into consideration a few of the ladies in California, who weren’t accommodated however are too scared to come back ahead. Issues are undoubtedly altering for ladies in jail. Typically we have now to power change. That’s simply how it’s right here.
The California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s deputy press secretary responded to fundamental fact-checking questions however said that “CDCR can not touch upon ongoing litigation. CDCR and California Correctional Well being Care Providers (CCHCS) are dedicated to working within the most secure method potential whereas adhering to all relevant [st]ate and [f]ederal legal guidelines, guidelines and laws regarding occupational security and well being.”