The decision of whether or not a New York woman will give birth in the Steuben County jail now lies with the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
The decision of whether or not a woman will give birth in the Steuben County jail now lies with the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
On Oct. 27 Amber Lynn Hollar, 22, of Hornell, was sentenced to one year in jail by Hornell city court Judge Joseph Damrath after she failed out of Hornell drug court.
According to court records, Hollar was enrolled in the drug court program for a guilty plea to third-degree forgery — a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The plea satisfied the charges of second-degree forgery and criminal possession of a forged instrument that stemmed from an Aug. 19 incident involving checks at the P&C grocery store in Hornell.
Hollar was reportedly not pregnant when she entered drug court. She is scheduled to give birth in December.
Ordway said his office doesn’t have any say over the woman’s fate, but if she has to give birth while incarcerated it will be costly. He said the medical costs the jail will be forced to pay for her labor and an extra guard to watch Hollar while she is at the hospital will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Ordway said if she decides to keep the baby through the duration of her sentence, the jail will have to pay for diapers, baby formula, and other items as well.
“I can’t talk about a specific case, but before people are admitted to drug court the (district attorney) does the first screening to determine if they are eligible. Then the DA’s office and the defense attorney agree on a disposition that is acceptable to the people and the defendant,” said Damrath. “Usually that’s the carrot, so they have the incentive to complete the program. The DA and the defense attorney also agree on another sentence if they do not complete the program, and that’s meant to be the hammer. If a person fails out, the latter sentence has to be implemented.”
Ordway said Damrath could have chosen several other sentencing options, including a state prison sentence in an institution with better facilities or electronic home monitoring.
His issue is the cost of caring for a pregnant inmate, money that will ultimately be paid by taxpayers, but also come out of the sheriff’s department budget.
“The judge has a lot of leniency when it comes to sentencing. Other sentences could have been handed down,” said Ordway.
The total cost is only estimated at this time, but Ordway said it could reach as much as $200,000.
Damrath has taken issue with Ordway commenting publically on the case and a prior interview he did with the television news station WETM-TV from Elmira.
“It is disturbing that the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department has chosen to go public regarding the medical condition of an inmate sentenced to incarceration by Hornell city court,” said Damrath in an email. “It is further disturbing that this particular inmate was a participant in the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court of Hornell (DATCH), where some degree of privacy and confidentiality is sought to encourage participation by defendants who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.
“Such actions appear to be a violation of state and federal laws, which prohibit the disclosure of personal identifying medical information, and are intended to protect everyone’s right to medical privacy. Unfortunately it is not unusual for a pregnant defendant to be incarcerated. A sheriff department should foresee this possibility and plan accordingly. We are sending the wrong message if we allow a convicted person to avoid the consequences of criminal behavior because of pregnancy.”
The email goes on: “Under section 650 of the County Law of New York, the sheriff is deemed to be an “officer of the court,” whose duty is to assist the court and carry out court mandates. This duty is violated when inappropriate public disclosures are made for the purpose of embarrassing a court or, even worse, because the sheriff’s department seeks to avoid, or impede, a lawful court mandate.”
Ordway said he didn’t alert the media.
“The media contacted me after they read the minutes from the public safety and corrections meeting, after I addressed the public safety and corrections committee,” he said. “It’s my job as a sherriff to keep that committee notified of budgetary concerns. It’s up to me to keep that committee informed. So, I didn’t go to them, they read the minutes and contacted me."
“For (Ordway) to second guess me, and if he wants to second guess the court by going to the press and making trouble, than he is violation county law. This is an example of the tail trying to wag the dog,” said Damrath. “I’m perfectly willing to answer any suggestions from him, but there is a problem when a police officer tells the courts what to do. The courts are here to protect the people’s rights and to assure laws are followed.”
Ordway said he consulted the Steuben County District Attorney’s Office about the case and he is doing what he can to make sure the woman does not give birth while incarcerated.
“We are actively pursuing ways to have her released before the child is born, myself, the county attorney, the county administrator and the county probation director. It’s my job to research the budget and protect the taxpayers. Section 601 of the correctional law indicates because this type of situation is not budgeted for then we have the option of budgeting this back to Hornell city court,” said Ordway, adding, “No, it’s not unusual to have a pregnant inmate, but we’ve never had an inmate (give birth) in the jail.”
According to the sheriff’s office, Hollar has been charged with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, second-degree criminal possession of a stolen instrument and second-degree and third-degree forgery in the past.
Hollar could be released for good behavior as early as April 20, 2010 and would complete the maximum amount of her sentence by Aug. 19, 2010, according to jail records.
The Evening Tribune