Get Informed

Regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email

Close Newsletter Signup

Indiana prosecutor considers locking up mothers of newborns

Indiana prosecutor considers locking up mothers of newborns


Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings is considering criminally charging women who give birth to babies who show signs of drug addiction at birth by demonstrating withdrawal symptoms like tremors, excessive crying, vomiting, and diarrhea.

But recent history in other states suggests locking up mothers won’t work, and might even make the situation worse. Cummings is also defying medical science, which concludes that addiction is a chronic brain disease.

The number of babies born addicted to drugs is increasing, with one Indiana hospital saying the number of drug addicted babies had doubled and another also seeing an increase, and Cummings said charging the mothers who use drugs should be considered. But he needs to determine if it’s something he can legally do.

“The problem won’t go away,” Cummings said in an interview with the Herald Bulletin. “The threat of incarceration may be the most effective way to lower the numbers.”

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger disagreed with Cummings and expressed doubt that locking up mothers would help solve the problem, saying an education program should occur first.

Cummings might want to look to Tennessee, which passed a fetal-assault statute in 2014.

That law was written for two years and allowed to expire in 2016 amid criticism that pregnant women were refusing to get prenatal care due to fear of being arrested. It also received criticism from women’s rights activists, medical professionals, and abortion opponents.

“The law has had the opposite of its intended affect,” said Allison Glass, state director at Healthy and Free TN, a reproductive and sexual health advocacy group, in an interview with Mother Jones. “It’s driving women away from health care.”

And getting into rehab didn’t seem to help. A woman Mother Jones profiled, Brittany Hudson, avoided going to the doctor for most of her pregnancy but sought drug treatment toward the end hoping it would allow her to be a better mother.

But each time she went to an in-patient drug center she was turned away because it had a policy of not accepting pregnant women, or there was no space for her.

After her baby was born, Hudson was arrested for assault, but in jail she found little in the way of help, only being able to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“You put these women behind bars but there’s nothing for them there,” Hudson said.

In Mississippi, a Lost Second Chance for Gerome Moore

“You look like a cold-blooded monster.”

In Mississippi, a Lost Second Chance for Gerome Moore

“You look like a cold-blooded monster.”


That’s what officers told then 17-year-old Gerome Moore when they interrogated him following the 2015 shooting of Carolyn Temple. Moore ultimately confessed to driving the getaway car for two friends who robbed and shot Temple in her boyfriend’s driveway; she died a week later from the gunshot wound. The teen also confessed to bringing the gun used to kill Temple, though he did not use it himself. In the fall of 2016, a jury found Moore guilty of capital murder, a conviction that carried a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Because Moore was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, he was eligible for resentencing under Montgomery v. Louisiana and Miller v. Alabama. In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles. Montgomery, decided the year that Moore was found guilty, ruled that Miller must be applied retroactively. The ruling gave kids sentenced to life without parole, like Moore, a chance to petition for a more lenient sentence. But earlier this year, Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill ruled against Moore’s motion, denying him a chance for resentencing and affirming the ruling that he should die in prison — even though he didn’t pull the trigger.

Together, the two Supreme Court rulings require states to give kids sentenced to life without parole a “meaningful opportunity for release,” and Miller dictates that only kids whose cases demonstrate “irreparable corruption” should result in a life without parole sentence. Prosecutors across the country were required to reassess hundreds of sentences, considering the nuances of each juvenile’s case, and make new recommendations — but in many cases, that hasn’t happened in earnest.

Unfortunately for kids like Moore, some prosecutors and judges seem not to be invested in that “meaningful opportunity.” To Judge Weill and Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Randy Harris, the fact that Moore never left the car or physically interacted with Temple was irrelevant. “He brought the gun,” Harris told the jury in September. “That is why we are here today. That gun is why Carolyn Temple is dead.”

Though Temple’s death is undoubtedly tragic, the ruling that an impulsive teenager’s bad choice makes him “irreparably corrupt” ignores ample evidence that culpability must be considered differently when the defendant is a child instead of an adult. Adolescent brain science has repeatedly demonstrated the difference between kids and adults — namely, that young brains that are still developing increase “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences,” according to Miller. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have acknowledged this fact, banning life without parole sentences for kids entirely.

Nearly 2,500 prisoners sentenced to life without parole as children are now at the mercy of prosecutors and judges who have been called upon by the highest court to carefully reconsider their cases. Unfortunately for kids like Moore, in counties like Hinds, that careful reconsideration seems to be absent.

More in Explainers

Appeals court admonishes district attorney candidate for misconduct

Appeals court admonishes district attorney candidate for misconduct


A candidate for district attorney in Ontario County, New York has been criticized by the state’s appellate court for prosecutorial misconduct.

The Fourth Department Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court admonished the office of Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, saying that it has had to reverse several recent convictions “based upon prosecutorial misconduct.”

The appellate court said the cases of concern involved cases where sexual abuse against children is alleged. All the cases had the same prosecutor.

Former Assistant Prosecutor Kristina “Kitty” Karle confirmed that she is the prosecutor the court referenced. Now a private lawyer, she was the head of the domestic violence and child abuse bureau before being fired by Doorley.

Karle is now running to be the chief elected prosecutor in Ontario County, and did not seem particularly remorseful when asked about the appellate court’s action.

“I hear what they said. I don’t have to agree with it, but I hear what they said,” Karle said to the Democrat & Chronicle. “And if the higher court thinks I said something I shouldn’t, I will take it under consideration moving forward.”

In the case the appellate court reviewed, the sexual abuse conviction of Joe Flowers Jr, a local pastor accused of sexually abusing a preteen boy was upheld. But judges still criticized Karle and said several other recent cases had been overturned.

According to the Democrat & Chronicle, “Court records show that the District Attorney’s Office in fact conceded during the appeal that portions of Karle’s closing argument were improper.”

The court concluded that Karle wrongly attacked the character of the defense lawyer, misstated the evidence of a defense witness, improperly suggested that a juvenile witness opted not to testify out of guilt and suggested to jurors that she was an “unsworn expert.”

More in Podcasts