‘It makes me tear up just talking about it’: Babies born in Butler County Jail with withdrawal spur action

Babies recently born in jail — including one into a cell’s toilet — has Butler County’s sheriff asking for an Ohio lawmaker for help in toughening laws to help addicted, expecting mothers.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones invited State Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., to his press conference Friday to announce they are joining forces to persuade the Ohio Legislature to bolster state laws for harsher penalties on those pushing drugs to women who are pregnant.

MORE: Second baby born in Butler County Jail this month

Prompting their joint effort was the Friday morning birth of a baby in the jail.

It was the second of two women prisoners in the county jail who have in the last month given birth to babies suffering drug withdrawal symptoms. Earlier this month a newborn was expelled into cell toilet.

“It’s one hell of a way to enter this world,” said Jones.

Friday’s birth was the fifth baby born in the jail in recent years, he said.

“The mothers are addicted to drugs when they come here. The last two, the babies were born alive, we were very fortunate,” Jones said.

“I have five pregnant women in today; 80 percent of the women in my jail today are on some type of drug and trying to get off of drugs,” Jones said. “When these women come to jail pregnant, it’s very traumatic.”

Lang said he’s reached out to the Ohio Prosecutor’s Association and will work over the summer break on a bill that would increase the penalties for a drug dealer who knowingly sells illegal narcotics to a pregnant woman.

“Ohio is one of the worst states in this opioid battle, and Butler County is one of the worst counties in Ohio in this battle, and one of the worst culprits is heroin,” Lang said. “For some babies, who has no choice in this process, a drug dealer is interfering with their ability to come into the world with the same rights that is granted to all the rest of us.”

Jones and Lang said the new legislation would look at increasing penalties on the drug trafficking side of Ohio law as it applies to providing illegal drugs to pregnant women.

Lang plans to introduce a bill that expands on existing law, which was changed by a pair of former Butler County state lawmakers.

Former Ohio lawmakers Wes Retherford and Margy Conditt introduced a bill in 2014 to increase the penalties, adding the charge of “corrupting another with drug” and increase penalties of drug offenses if someone knowingly provides or sells illegal narcotics to a pregnant woman.

The Retherford-Conditt bill was attached to Senate Bill 276, which passed as emergency legislation in December 2014, according to the Ohio General Assembly archives.

Butler County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tony Dwyer said they would like any new proposed piece of legislation “to draw attention to the trafficking side … which is most of what we investigate.”

“There is nothing that mentions pregnancies (on the trafficking side of the law),” Dwyer said. “So the question is can we bring some attention to that.”

The goal over the next few weeks is to see if the prosecutors would rather have something specific laid out in the trafficking sections or leave it as it is, Dwyer said.

Jones said his jail is like most in Ohio’s 88 counties and is not equipped with medical facilities or personnel to handle child births.

“Until you’ve held one of these babies and you see their little leg quiver, it makes me tear up just talking about it,” said Jones.

“When these drug dealers sell to women who are pregnant drugs or give them drugs, it’s the equivalent of sticking a needle in the mother’s stomach and sticking it into the baby’s arm,” he said. “We should all be appalled. And it should make all of us cry.”

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