Investigation opened into why new mom Julie Bilotta was ignored during childbirth in Ottawa Jail

On September 29th, 26-year-old Julie Bilotta gave birth to a son: Gionni Lee Garlow weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces.

Gionni's first introduction to the world: an Ottawa jail cell.

Bilotta was 8 months' pregnant, in custody at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on breach of recognizance and fraud charges relating to forged cheques, when she started experiencing labour pains.

She claims her concerns were ignored by jail staff. The nursing staff told her that she was in phantom labour and gave her antacids for what they diagnosed as indigestion.

Jail birth traumaSupport group says inmates at the jail where a baby was born were upset by mother's cries.

"She was told at that point by a guard: 'If you're moaning like this for false labour, what are you going to do when it's the real thing?' And "You should have thought about that before you got pregnant,'" Bryonie Baxter, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, which advocates on behalf of woman who come into conflict with the law, told the Toronto Star.

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When she continued to moan and pain, guards moved her to a segregated cell.

"I keep coming back to that image of a woman in labour in prison begging for someone to listen and take her seriously and get her medical help," Baxter told the Ottawa Citizen. "And instead she's put in segregation. She's made fun of."

Baxter told CBC News that other inmates were traumatized "by listening to what was going on."

In that cell, Bilotta's son feet emerged. Only then did nurses recognize she was in labour, Bilotta alleges.

Jail staff called an ambulance. Paramedics delivered little Gionni in the cell, then transported mother and son to the hospital where Bilotte required blood transfusions.

Premature Gionni suffered some respiratory problems, the Toronto Star reports, but is now doing well on his own.

Had she been taken to the hospital earlier, she would have likely been given a C-section instead of enduring a risky breech birth, Baxter believes.

"When you scream in pain for, I don't know, nine hours and nobody believes you and nobody helps you … and nobody even calls a doctor in to check her or brings her to the hospital," Bilotta's mother, Kim Hurtubise, said. "They shouldn't be treated like animals — or worse."

Still incarcerated, the new mother has yet to meet her son.

"She's heartbroken. She hasn't even been able to hold her own baby," said Hurtubise, who is currently caring for her grandson. "She just wants to come home."

Some advocated for female inmates wonder why a pregnant woman was sitting in jail awaiting trial in the first place.

"Prisons are very expensive," Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto, told CBC News. "She could have been managed in the community with the appropriate levels of supervision and support, where she could have had a more humane context in which to give birth or see through to end of pregnancy."

Bilotta's lawyer, Don Johnson, is applying to have her released on compassionate grounds.

The incident is now under investigation.

"Pregnant inmates should expect to receive the same level of care that expecting mothers in the community receive, so we are reviewing the situation," said Madeleine Meilleur, the Ontario minister of community safety and correctional services, who used to be a delivery-room nurse.

In an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, Meilleur sent a message to Bilotta and her family:

"Thank you for reporting that to us and telling us about your feeling, and the situation will be reviewed, and I hope that it will not happen again."

The Ottawa Citizen addressed the bigger picture:

"Coming at a time when there are growing concerns about deteriorating conditions within the province's jails, it also raises the question of whether Bilotta's case reflects bigger problems related to overcrowding and training."

In 2007, Ashley Smith, 19, hanged herself in segregation at the Grand Valley Institution near Kitchener. Ordered not to intervene unless she stopped breathing, guards watched her die. A 2008 report by Howard Sapers, correctional investigator of Canada, found the correctional service had failed Smith.

"Sapers concluded Smith wasn't trying to kill herself, as she believed guards would intervene. It was a desperate plea for help from a troubled teen, the report concluded," QMI Agency reported.

This summer, Ontario Court Justice Gregory Pockele shortened jail sentences for first-time offenders because he wasn't comfortable sending people to the overcrowded, understaffed and often-violent Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

Pockele said he was "sending people with great reluctance" to the jail for crimes deserving of short, sharp sentences and is "concerned about people's safety," the London Free Press reported.

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Last month, unionized staff at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre refused to work, putting the detention centre on lockdown, because of malfunctioning equipment.

As of July 31, there were 15,097 inmates in federal prisons, a "historic high," said Sapers.

In the past two years, 1,000 new inmates entered the system, even though no new beds were added, CBC News reported.

"We're seeing an increase in the use of force, an increase in assaults, an increase in sick leave and stress leave among staff, we're seeing an increase in lockdowns and exceptional searches," Sapers added.

Allan Manson, a law professor at Queen's University, told CBC News that an inmate could possible find the Canadian government liable for failing to provide adequate protection and care for inmates according to its own laws.

"The [Corrections and Conditional Release] Act is rife with standards that can't be maintained as the numbers go up," he said.