Prisons

Bill Introduced in Congress to Ban Shackling and Solitary Confinement of Pregnant Women

Because that's a thing that happens in the United States.

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Two Democratic senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, introduced legislation Tuesday to improve the treatment of female inmates in federal prisons, including banning solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant women.

The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), would also increase visitation rights for inmates, provide free telephone and video conference calls, and require federal prisons to provide tampons and sanitary napkins to inmates free of charge.

Women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S prison population. The female prison population has grown by 700 percent since 1980, Booker said at a press conference Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill. But they struggle to maintain contact with their children because of exorbitant prison phone fees, receive proper medical care, and maintain their basic dignity, forcing them to "have to make difficult choices whether to get price gouged to communicate with family or buy basic health products,' Booker said.

"If you listen to their testimony," Booker said, "it brings a shame to what's happening in the U.S., and it violates our common values and principles."

Women in prison have higher rates of mental illness, drug dependency, and histories of sexual and physical abuse. The vast majority of them are also mothers.

"Over half of women in prison and 80 percent of women in jail have children," Warren said. "The majority of women in prison, as Sen. Booker said, are themselves victims of physical or sexual abuse. It means we're talking about women who have already faced enormous challenges in their lives, who are trying to hold families together, and who end up incarcerated."

One of those women was Andrea James, now the executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. In 2009, James was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for a nonviolent crime. She had a five-month-old child at the time.

"When I entered that prison in Danbury, Connecticut in 2010, I was coming in as a former criminal defense attorney," James said at the press conference. "I didn't think there was anything else anybody could tell me about how broken our criminal justice system is. I was stunned and heartbroken at what I encountered walking into that federal prison crammed full of 2,000 women."

Booker and Warren's bill does not currently have any Republican co-sponsors, although Booker said he is reaching out to GOP senators who haveregularly joined him on criminal justice bills in the past. The bill's main priority of maintaining connections between incarcerated mothers and their families is an issue that should appeal to conservatives, Booker and Warren said.

The federal Bureau of Prison announced in 2008 it would stop shackling women while they were giving birth, but it still otherwise allows the practice. While the bill would only apply to the federal prison system—which currently holds about 12,500 female inmates, most of them for drug crimes—the senators and advocates like Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director of the criminal justice reform group #Cut50, hope it would set an example for states and counties, where the shackling of women in labor still occurs.

"The fact that we are taking one of the most joyous moments of their life—the moment you give birth and become a mother—and shackling them during that moment, ripping the baby away, and not even providing a way to even begin to foster this child that they've just spent nine months growing and bringing into this world, is shocking and disturbing and disgusting," Sloan says. "We know there are models out there, like overnight visitation pilot programs, that have shown to have a meaningful impact on the long-term bond between mother and child, and even the mother's recidivism rate and ability to get back on her feet after incarceration and turn her life around."

Much of the growth in the female inmate population is happening in county jails, but research and public policy addressing "the precipitous rise in the number of women in jail" has lagged behind, a study last year by the Vera Institute reported.

The number of women in jail has risen from less than 8,000 in 1970 to nearly 110,000. "Once a rarity, women are now held in jails in nearly every county—a stark contrast to 1970, when almost three quarters of counties held not a single woman in jail," the report said.

Earlier this year, a woman sued the Milwaukee County Jail for being subjected to repeated sexual assaults by a guard. She also said she was shackled while giving birth. The lawsuit alleged that at least 40 other women since 2011 had been forced to give birth while shackled to hospital beds. A jury awarded her $6.7 million in June.

Another woman is also suing the Milwaukee County Jail, alleging that poor medical care led to a miscarriage during her third trimester.

The treatment of incarcerated women in the U.S. comes as a surprise to many, Sloan said.

"We just ran into [California Lieutenant Governor] Gavin Newsom over at Dirksen," Sloan said, referring to one of the Senate office buildings next to the Capitol Building. "I told him why we were here, and he said, 'What? They do that?' That's the shock that we've gotten from everybody."

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  1. It’s impossible to put a pregnant woman in solitary confinement.

    1. Sure it is, if the fetus is too young to be considered a person.

  2. RE: Bill Introduced in Congress to Ban Shackling and Solitary Confinement of Pregnant Women
    Because that’s a thing that happens in the United States.

    How sad is that?
    You need to sign a bill into law prohibiting shackling and solitary confinement of pregnant women.
    Who says there are no gulags in the USA?

    1. What’s wrong with solitary confinement of pregnant women?

      1. Same problem doing it with everyone else, its cruel and counter productive. Our prison systems (U.S) need to not focus on ideas of punishment, revenge or justice regarding the prison system. We need to focus on folks in the system getting out of the system asap and be a productive citizen, its better for everyone that way.

        1. Our prison systems (U.S) need to not focus on ideas of punishment, revenge or justice regarding the prison system. We need to focus on folks in the system getting out of the system asap and be a productive citizen, its better for everyone that way.

          …assuming convicts want to become productive.

          Which evidence does not seem to indicate is the case.

          Jail is a punishment. Treat it as such.

  3. Is that fauxahontas in the background? Isn’t she the dreaded enemy of libertarians everywhere. WTF! I’m cancelling my subscription and having the best campfire EVAH with Reason back issues. Just fuck you guys– really!

    1. Fuck off, troll.

  4. Why not get to the root of the problem — too damned many people in jail? If jail is meant to be punitive deterrent, why try to civlize it? If it’s meant to keep dangerous criminals off the streets, why not limit it to that?

    Truth is, it’s to show the plebs who is in charge.

    1. I spent approximately 12 minutes attempting to write, in my own idiom, what you (fundamentally) just posted.

      I am glad that I refreshed the website before posting.

      Truth is, it’s to show the plebs who is in charge.

      – And it ain’t them or their misbegotten children….

    2. Why not get to the root of the problem — too damned many people in jail?
      … because there’s no broad bipartisan consensus on why there are “too damned many people in jail”, and so there is no broad bipartisan consensus on how to fix that.

      Women shackled while giving birth? Sure, it’s a symptom, not a “root”, but it’s a symptom that can probably get bipartisan support for treatment. The “root”, whatever it is? There’s not even bipartisan consensus on whether it’s actually a problem or not.

      1. Treating prisoners like prisoners. So inhumane!

        1. You have two choices with prisoners: keep them locked up for life, or eventually release them.

          If for life, then the only reasons to not just execute them are (1) pure revenge at taxpayer expense, (2) make amends possible if mistakes are found later.

          If for release, then you damned well better try to rehabilitate them and make it possible for them to lead a reformed life. Otherwise you are just training them to be better criminals and making it impossible to not be criminals again.

          I assume you aren’t serious trolling; just making a silly joke. But it really does come down to humane treatment and rehabilitation or lock up for life. Anything else just illustrates that prison is meant to remind the plebs who is in charge.

  5. “Dick Durbin (D-TK)”

    Proofreading!

    1. He’s the Honorable congressman from Tenkucky.

  6. “The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act… would also increase visitation rights for inmates, provide free telephone and video conference calls…they struggle to maintain contact with their children because of exorbitant prison phone fees, receive proper medical care, and maintain their basic dignity, forcing them to “have to make difficult choices whether to get price gouged to communicate with family or buy basic health products,’… “The fact that we are taking one of the most joyous moments of their life?the moment you give birth and become a mother?and shackling them during that moment, ripping the baby away, and not even providing a way to even begin to foster this child… is shocking and disturbing and disgusting,”.

    Why is this “The Dignity for Incarcerated WOMAN Act? I don’t see much of this that should not also apply equally to any of the men in prison. I suppose men arrested for drug crimes should not be afforded the same dignity in incarceration? Or is it that they don’t also suffer the same difficult choices about getting price gouged for communicating with family, or having no access to basic health products. Of course we all know about programs where incarcerated men are released to be present at the birth of their child, or are given overnight visitation pilot programs, that have shown to have a meaningful impact on the long-term bond between father and child.

    1. “Why is this “The Dignity for Incarcerated WOMAN Act?”
      Because you fundamentally misunderstand how our legislation process works?

      Legislation is rarely passed purely on merits, logic, and data. You have to sell the idea to people. Helping convicted women keep in contact with their children? Easy idea to sell. Helping convicted men keep in contact with their children? Harder sell.

      That it should be as easy of a sell is irrelevant.

      That said, I can’t find the bill online yet (and this article helpfully didn’t give an ID for it), but it’s likely it’ll be written in a neutral way such that those provisions (where applicable) affect men and women equally. But it won’t be sold as such, it’ll be sold as being about women.

      1. Because child rapist only deserve dignity of they have a cunt?

      2. Yeah, I stopped half way through my rant to check for a link to the bill and see if it applied to everyone, but didn’t see one. Of course you are right, it could apply equally, but that they just can’t come out and say it is depressing. While it may just be me, this blantant manipulation of public opinion is one of my peeves.

        That and It only further supports the idea that society as a whole views men as disposable cogs. As Jerryskids said below, Nobody gives a shit how many men in prison have children that depend on them, which is why it’s not important what BS reason (like drugs, or unpaid fines) we give for locking them up.

      3. it’s likely it’ll be written in a neutral way such that those provisions (where applicable) affect men and women equally

        Just like the VAWA, right you stupid fucking shill?

    2. “Over half of women in prison and 80 percent of women in jail have children,” Warren said.

      Nobody gives a shit how many men in prison have children, do they?

      1. Those children were conceived in RAPE

        1. In fact, that baby didn’t ask that man to be it’s father, so really the baby was raped too

  7. Had they been shackled and in solitary, maybe they wouldn’t be pregnant. Do I have to think of everything?

  8. Most of them are in there for some bullshit reason anyways.

  9. OT: My spidy senses say Don, Jr is making these public statements to communicate with his co-conspirators to get a story straight. He can’t call the Russian lady but he can communicate through these public statements. I hope the FBI is watching all of this.

    1. Dear Troll, This is a nothing burger. All the Reason commentariat knows that because, well, they just know everything before anyone actually conducts an investigation. They’re like precogs and they’ve detected no pre-crime so why don’t you go back to Huffpost where you belong. There.

      1. When was the last time a prog said anything that was true?

      2. You are both socialist morons. Please don’t breed, ok thanks

      3. “well, they just know everything before anyone actually conducts an investigation.”

        The investigation that began sometime in Dec 2016 with ‘details to be announced Thursday’? Before that investigation?
        Thanks, shitbag; your stupidity is at least amusing.

      4. Can you explain why Loretta Lynch allowed her in the country when she was initially barred from entering?

        Or why a quite fervently anti-Trump woman would be feeding him info to attack Hillary?

        It doesn’t really add up.

  10. From Trump to Booker: Orange is the New Black.

  11. But what if they’re into that kind of thing?

  12. What if you identify as pregnant?

    1. Food babies don’t count, Paul.

  13. You killed three people so u really deserve…… oh, u exercised your right to proceate. I forgot having a vag is like having a fucking joker in your hand.

  14. A vag in the hand is worth two with a bush

  15. I voted libertarian, and those ladies are feeling the tender mercies of Dem and GOP laws and appointees. Were it not for the LP platform causing La Suprema Corte to strike down fanatical abortion laws, women in America would be A LOT worse off. Every time a Republican slips into libertarian drag in an effort to convince women voters we are the same kind of socialists they are, or the Dems tarbrush “libertarians and republicans” as “right wing” [insert collective noun here], they alienate women voters from the one party that has ever handed the fair sex a victory for individual rights.

    1. The Libertarian Party adjudicated Roe v. Wade? Which timeline and which universe do you originally hail from? It might actually explain a lot…

  16. BTW, blue = 7.

  17. In 2009, James was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for a nonviolent crime.

    Why is Reason trying to obscure her crime or imply that she was in jail for some victimless (i.e. drug) crime, when the truth is James was a Real Estate Lawyer who was convicted of misusing funds (i.e. she’s a thief)?

    1. So now we are treated to the arrival of Milo; folks, don’t his jack-boots have a sparkling shine? ‘C’mon, Milo, get up on the stage where everyone can see and admire them!

      “Why is Reason trying to obscure her crime or imply that she was in jail for some victimless (i.e. drug) crime, when the truth is James was a Real Estate Lawyer who was convicted of misusing funds (i.e. she’s a thief)?”

      Uh, Milo, did you read what it said? “Nonviolent” =/= “victimless”; the article stated “nonviolent”. Why do you find it necessary to lie, Milo?
      Is it because your jackboots won’t stay polished without boot-lickers, Milo? Is that the issue?

    2. Embezzlement, eh? No reason to throw embezzlers in jail to keep them from embezzling again; all you need to do is publicize the crime, and any prospective employer who gets bamboozled is not deserving of much sympathy.

      It may be theft, but it’s not forced entry or violent.

      1. Embezzlement, eh? No reason to throw embezzlers in jail to keep them from embezzling again; all you need to do is publicize the crime, and any prospective employer who gets bamboozled is not deserving of much sympathy.

        True.

        But how about the one who got screwed before her tendencies became public? They are on their own?

        Don’t always look at the future. The past also matters here.

  18. Once a rarity, women are now held in jails in nearly every county?a stark contrast to 1970! spanish to english translation and dictionary

    1. Hey, gender equality means something!

  19. Wow, what a shocker, Reason supports a pure partisan bill put together by the two most liberal members of the US Senate.

    How about we just exempt women from any responsibility for their crimes, along with Mexicans and Muslims? Perfect libertarian solution.

    1. Typical media nonsense.

      The Democrats are the minority in Congress and the article even says that there is zero Republican supporters. In other words, this sexist bill is going nowhere.

      That’s right, I said it! Sexist against men.

  20. Grant them the same treatment men get……it’s only fair!

  21. Women already get lighter sentences than men. They have privacy rights above what male prisoners get. They are incarcerated in dramatically fewer numbers.

    CLEARLY, we need to do more to help women here.

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