Several inmates at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre were upset by hearing the cries from a woman in labour inside a jail cell last month, according to a support group that employs a staff member at the jail.
"I can tell you that we have heard from other prisoners at the detention centre who have said they were traumatized by listening to what was going on," said Bryonie Baxter, head of the Ottawa chapter of the Elizabeth Fry Society, which advocates on behalf of women in the justice system.
Julie Bilotta gave birth on Sept. 29 to a baby boy inside a segregation cell at the jail. The baby, apparently born in the breech position, arrived about a month early.
Bilotta is being held at the jail on fraud and drug charges while she awaits trial.
Society hopes mother will be released on bail
Baxter said the society hopes Bilotta will be released into the care of her mother, but if not, they have offered Bilotta a bed at one of the society's community residential facilities, which is staffed 24 hours a day, every day.
"When I went to see her … she was able to maintain her composure through telling me the entire story really well, until we got to the part where I said, 'Did you get a chance to hold the baby?' And that's when she started to cry," Baxter said. "She's desperate to be with her child."
Bilotta's mother, Kim Hurtubise, said a Cornwall judge asked her to trust the system when her daughter was sent to jail when she was 36 weeks pregnant.
Some advocates for female inmates wonder why a woman who was eight months pregnant was in a jail awaiting trial.
"Prisons are very expensive," said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, a professor of criminology at the University of Toronto. "She could have been managed in the community with the appropriate levels of supervision and support, where she could have had a more humane context in which to give birth or see through to end of pregnancy."
Baxter said programs to keep mothers and babies together don't exist in practice.
"In theory there is a mother child program, in the federal prisons at the very least. In practise, this hasn't occurred for many, many years," she said.
Bilotta has asked her mother to bring the baby to the jail on Saturday for visiting hours, where it's likely she'll only be able to see her son through a glass partition.
'I'm not taking this lightly,' minister says
Correctional Services minister Madeleine Meilleur, an Ottawa-area MPP, said the ministry is reviewing what went on in the jail on the day of the boy's birth.
Meilleur also said she has a message for Bilotta and her family.
"Thank you for reporting that to us and telling us about your feeling, and the situation will be reviewed, and I hope that it will not happen again," Meilleur told Robyn Bresnahan, in an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.
"I'm not taking this lightly. We are going to review the situation," she said.
Meilleur said an inmate should receive the same level of care inside a jail as a woman in the general population.