Society and Culture
Woman Gets Six Extra Years in Jail Due to Pregnancy
Last July a young woman named Lacey Weld from Tennessee was sentenced to 12 years in prison plus five years of supervised release after being captured on video spending 40 minutes inside of a methamphetamine manufacturing plant by an undercover police officer back in July. Did I mention she was in the last few weeks of her pregnancy at the time? Federal Judge Thomas Varlan determined that “enhanced sentencing” guidelines regarding harm to a child justified six years of the total sentence.
I’ll admit, I had never heard of the enhanced sentencing guidelines so to hear this story was pretty shocking and honestly I have mixed feelings about the whole situation.
A gaggle of reproductive-rights-organizations have taken it upon themselves to call on one-foot-out-the-door Attorney General Eric Holder to come out and publicly condemn Weld’s sentence. I’m curious as to why any of these organizations would want him to do such a thing? His reputation isn’t the best and no matter what he does or says it will not change the facts or the sentencing. In an interview with Vice, Weld’s attorney John Eldridge said that “laws intended to prevent ‘substantial risk of harm to life of a minor or an incompetent’ do not mention harm against a fetus.”
This is where things get sticky. Shouldn’t women be held responsible for their actions even if they are pregnant and especially if they are knowingly doing harm to themselves and their unborn child? Yes, you can argue that abortion would fall under that umbrella point of view, but if a woman has made the conscious decision to give birth to her child and either put it up for adoption or raise it herself, she should be held responsible for her actions.
This case has some serious grey areas and Weld’s lawyers are doing a damn good job of finding ways to interpret the laws in order to benefit her. That’s what lawyers are paid to do. But Weld needs to take a good, hard look in the mirror before she gets out and takes on the responsibility of raising that child. It may be a while but at some point it will be her responsibility again.
Some jurisdictions allow pregnant inmates to raise babies they give birth to in jail for several years before giving them to family members on the outside. This is best exemplified by the Argentinian movie Leonera (Lion’s Den) in which a woman who is convicted of murder finds out she is pregnant and is placed in a special ward of the prison where she is able to give birth and raise her baby for several years before giving him to a family member. It is an interesting concept and it almost seems like a good idea until I realize that our tax dollars would be supporting not only an inmate but also her child. The film in particular explores the pain and struggle of raising a child behind the walls of a prison and the importance of the bond between mother and child.
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, says that “this case tells women who are pregnant and cannot overcome their addiction is, really, to get an abortion.” I do not believe that is what this case is telling any woman. The point of punishing a person for her crime is to deter her from doing it again and to make an example out of her. Perhaps there is a girl out there who has a drug problem and just found out she is pregnant. By reading this article and she might realize that if she gets caught doing something illegal and harming her unborn child that she has chosen to keep she might be better off focusing on getting clean and taking care of herself and the baby.
Weld missed that opportunity. Not only did she take that away from herself and her child but she has also done irreparable damage. Even breathing in the fumes through a shirt at a meth lab can do damage to a fetus. According to the Department of Justice there is video footage of Lacey not only working in the meth lab but also smoking the drug. Weld told the court back in July that she wanted to “apologize for all the harm and wrongdoing (she has) done to (her) children. He could have died, and (she) just pray(s) and thank(s) God that (her) sister has him and he’s OK.” Why is Weld just now realizing that she did something wrong and why is she merely apologizing? Shouldn’t she have been more aware of what she was doing before she got caught?
The baby did test positive for opioids and methamphetamine. I think Lacey got the time she deserved and I don’t think that it was wrong for the judge in the case to “enhance” her sentencing because she actually, knowingly did harm to her baby. If you are willing to do the crime, you should be willing to do the time.
I wish Weld all of the luck in the world and hope that she can kick her habit, but I also hope that her little baby has a fighting chance.
Allison Dawson (@AllyD528) Born in Germany, raised in Mississippi and Texas. Graduate of Texas Tech University and Arizona State University. Currently dedicating her life to studying for the LSAT. Twitter junkie. Conservative.
Featured image courtesy of [Daniel Lobo via Flickr]