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Pregnant inmate granted exception

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 Miranda Luker is expected to be released from jail today. But she'll have to return or pay a $2,500 bond soon after giving birth. (Photo provided)
Miranda Luker is expected to be released from jail today. But she'll have to return or pay a $2,500 bond soon after giving birth. (Photo provided)

GREENFIELD — A pregnant inmate in the Hancock County Jail was granted a special request to leave the facility and give birth after county officials fretted for weeks over how much it would cost taxpayers to cover her medical bills.

Miranda Luker, 23, is expected to be released today – just two days before her due date. She hasn’t yet paid her $2,500 bond, but Judge Terry Snow granted home detention to Luker after public safety and elected officials wondered how much her medical bills would dent the county’s inmate health fund.

It was a situation county officials haven’t ever faced before, and though Luker is required to return to the facility after she delivers or pays her bond, public officials are breathing a sigh of relief that the county won’t be on the hook to cover her medical expenses.

“She’s not paid a bond, and this is for the sake of the county’s expenses primarily,” said Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin. “I think the good news story from the officeholders’ perspective is, we’re saving the county money. If the prosecutor’s office had rejected the release, it wouldn’t have happened.”

At issue is a state requirement that county jails pay for all medical care of inmates. Hancock County set aside $205,000 this year for inmates’ medical expenses, and more than half of that goes to a company that provides regular check-ups on inmates. The rest of the money would pay for prisoners’ special medical needs; the birth of Luker’s baby alone could have cost between $7,500 and $13,000. 

Luker was  in jail under charges related to another child. Luker and Mark Barron were indicted in November by a grand jury in the death of their infant son two years ago.

Charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a Class A felony, Luker has been held at the Hancock County Jail awaiting a March 10 jury trial. Her initial $25,000 bond was reduced in December to $2,500, but she could not pay that fee.

Luker wrote a letter to Snow earlier this month asking for an early release because of the pregnancy. Griffin said both the prosecution and the defense agreed the bond should be waived temporarily so she could give birth. The baby is due this Saturday.

What to do with a pregnant inmate is a rare dilemma for local officials. While Sheriff Mike Shepherd said the jail has housed pregnant inmates in the past, none have been so far along for local officials to even begin to wonder what they would do should the inmate begin to go into labor.

The issue was brought up for the first time publicly at a county council meeting last month, when sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart warned of an impending hit to the county’s inmate medical fund. The fund has been under close watch recently because of high medical bills for an inmate who overdosed in the jail last summer.

The council, taken aback by the thought of taxpayers footing the bill for a delivery, joked at the time about bringing a bassinet into the facility and throwing a baby shower. Some even suggested it might be cheaper to pay the bond to get Luker out of jail, though the idea never went anywhere.

But with each passing week, reality set in that the county might have to foot the bill for a delivery. Luker was transported for weekly checkups, and Shepherd said she would have likely been taken to Hancock Regional Hospital should she go into labor.

And even though Luker’s bond was drastically reduced in December, county council members and commissioners all but resolved they’d have to pay the expense.

“It’s just the way it is,” Commissioner Brad Armstrong said last week

“I don’t know that there’s anything the county can do one way or another,” Commissioner Derek Towle added.

And the fact that Luker is in jail relating to the death of another child made the situation sad to even think about, council President Bill Bolander said.

According to a report from the prosecutor’s office, Luker and Barron found their 3-month-old son Dylan in his crib unresponsive Dec. 2, 2011, his face down against a body pillow that was kept in the crib with Dylan and his twin brother. An autopsy revealed Dylan was suffering from acute bronchopneumonia at the time of his death. His throat was clogged, and unsafe sleep positions and lack of custodial care were listed as contributing factors in the infant’s death. The child had been left unattended in his crib for 11 hours, the investigation showed.

Luker wrote a letter to Judge Snow Jan. 1, asking him to reconsider her $2,500 bond.

“It is very important to me that I be home to care for my newborn child after his birth and to care for my 2-year-old son as well,” she wrote.

Luker’s attorney, Randy Sorrell, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

It’s hard to tell how much money the county would have had to pay should Luker have delivered the baby while in custody. Rob Matt, a spokesman for Hancock Regional Hospital, said the average vaginal birth costs between $7,500 and $8,500, while a caesarian section ranges from $12,000 to $13,000. Still, Matt said complications in delivery and length of stay can make the cost vary. 

Luker is expected to be released from the jail this morning, now that a landline telephone has been installed to monitor her home detention, Shepherd said. Within two weeks of having the baby, Shepherd said, Luker is required to either post her bond or return to jail. Shepherd said her newborn will likely be taken care of by a relative.

Meanwhile, Mark Barron, the other parent charged in the death of 3-month-old Dylan, was brought into the Hancock County Jail Tuesday. Barron had been serving time in another facility under a charge of drunken driving resulting in death in Marion County.

Deputy prosecutors Tami Napier and Scott Spears said this was a rare case in which to agree to an inmate leaving the facility without paying her bond.

“It was a very unique, special circumstance, and we would have never ever even considered that if we felt there was a danger to the community at-large,” Napier said.

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