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Inmate's Rights Allegedly Violated In Jailhouse Birth

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JULIE BILOTTA
A rights group is alleging that Julie Bilotta's rights were violated when she gave birth in prison. (MySpace photo) | MySpace

A group that advocates on behalf of women in the justice system is shocked after a Cornwall, Ont., woman allegedly gave birth without a doctor present while in a segregation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, CBC News has learned.

Julie Bilotta, 26, gave birth to a baby boy on Sept. 29 at about 9:20 p.m. ET, according to her mother, Kim Hurtubise, and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an advocacy group that assists women in conflict with the law.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services also confirmed the birth to CBC News and paramedics confirmed they were called to the jail at 8:49 p.m.

Bilotta is facing numerous charges involving drugs and fraud. She was in jail for breach of recognizance.

The head of the Elizabeth Fry Society, Bryonie Baxter, said the centre received a call from Bilotta immediately after the birth.

Baxter said Bilotta was seeking advice and assistance after giving birth to her first child, who arrived one month early.

In pain for several hours

Bilotta told the centre she was in pain for about nine hours before giving birth to her son, Gionni Lee, through a "breech birth." A breech birth occurs when the baby enters the birth canal with the buttocks or feet first instead of the head first.

Bilotta claims guards ignored her calls for help and became irritated by her cries, transferring her from a shared cell to a segregation cell.

That is where she gave birth four hours after the transfer. Bilotta also said she underwent two tests from nurses in the jail, who believed she was in false labour.

Bilotta's mother was in tears while detailing the incident as described by her daughter.

"She was screaming in a lot of pain and nobody would help her," Kim Hurtubise said outside the Ottawa Hospital's General Campus.

'Disturbing' circumstances surround birth

Baxter said there are often calls from women at the Ottawa jail, but this one shocked her.

"The circumstances of this are particularly egregious and disturbing," she told the CBC's Julie Ireton.

"An ambulance should have been called. She should have been taken for an examination at the hospital. The hospital should have made the determination whether it was a real labour or not."

Baxter also argued women should receive the same care in jail as in the community.

The minister responsible for Ontario's correctional facilities told CBC News it could not comment on this specific birth citing privacy concerns.

Jailhouse births like unplanned home births: minister

Minister and Ottawa MPP Madeleine Meilleur said there is a procedure for certain cases where a baby is born inside a jail. The most qualified people help deliver the baby, whether that is a nurse or correctional officer.

"It's like if the mother was delivering at home… it's not the perfect way, it's not what is being planned but when this happens they are assisted into the delivery," Meilleur said. "The mother and the baby are taken care of and they are transferred to the hospital."

Correctional officers are trained in CPR and first aid but they are not qualified to delivery a baby, Meilleur added.

The ministry is investigating the birth. Its policies also state an Ontario correctional facility follows the "same prenatal care standards for a pregnant inmate as it does for pregnant women in the community."

Bilotta has since returned to jail, while Hurtubise picked up her grandson from the hospital on Tuesday. The baby is now home after suffering from some breathing difficulties in his first few days.

Bilotta's lawyer is trying to get the Crown's consent to release her based on grounds her "dramatically" changed circumstances.

If the Crown does not consent, a bail hearing will be scheduled.

Bilotta has yet to see her new son since she gave birth.

"She's trying to keep her spirits up. I'm scared for her now," Hurtubise said.

Elizabeth Fry has helped Bilotta file a complaint with the Ontario Ombudsman's Office and the Ontario College of Nurses for the alleged lack of care. The group also wants to make sure the new mother is able to reunite with her baby.

"How can it be, that in a civilized society, women can give birth under these conditions in jail," Baxter said. "Most people who don't visit the jails would not believe that this would take place in Canada."

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