At a press conference on July 11, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker introduced the Dignity of Incarcerated Women Act.
The bill would “require federal prisons to provide free, quality sanitary napkins and tampons to female inmates, and would ban shackling them during pregnancy or placing pregnant women in solitary confinement” (Jelsten 2017, p.2).
The bill would also require that the Bureau of Prisons train correctional officers in how to respond to victims of trauma, and ease communication between incarcerated mothers and their families. The latter requirement would include considering the location of families when placing mothers in a prison, allowing free video conferencing between the inmates and their families and running a pilot program that would allow overnight visits for mothers and their children (Kiefer, 2017).
Said Sen. Booker, “It is in the societal interest to support families when members of those families are incarcerated. We do unnecessarily harsh things that are not necessary for public safety, but really punish women and punish their families as a whole” (Jelsten 2017, p.4).
In 2015, 12,953 federal inmates were women. 80% of women incarcerated across federal and state prisons today are mothers.
Andrea James, Executive Director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, was an incarcerated mother once herself, convicted to a federal prison for 14 months in 2014. During the press conference at which the bill was announced, she said, “We have this very distorted perception of incarcerated women and who they are: they were bad mothers, they didn’t care about their children, they don’t love their children. We think that when we send women to prison that the lives of their children get better — but for the most part, particularly for our girls, their lives often become more challenged” (Kiefer 2017, p.9).
These challenged children who grow up with a parent in prison number at more than five million in the United States. Studies show that such challenges they may face include “increased rates of homelessness, drug abuse, poverty, and mental illness.” Increased visitation, however, as suggested by the Dignity of Incarcerated Women Act, allows children to better cope with this parental loss and may decrease the likelihood for those problems (Kozlowska, 2017).
Elizabeth Swavola, a senior program associate with the Center on Sentencing and Corrections, wrote in support of the bill: “Data on women in jail suggest that their justice system involvement often stems from poverty, mental health and substance use challenges, and trauma. Spending time in jail can further exacerbate these root causes of women’s incarceration, and many of them would be better served in community-based alternatives, with better outcomes for them, their families, and their communities” (Kiefer 2017, p.11).
Such alternatives, as suggested by the Dignity of Incarcerated Women Act, may include drug counseling, parenthood education or general assistance in reentry to society. These programs would reintegrate these women, and specifically these mothers, and better help them further not only themselves, but future generations, as well.
For more on this topic, please read, “Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren Want to Treat Women In Prison Like Human Beings.”
Jelsten, M. (2017, July 11). Cory Booker And Elizabeth Warren Want To Treat Women In Prison Like Human Beings. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.mx/entry/cory-booker-and-elizabeth-warren-want-to-treat-women-in-prison-like-human-beings_us_5964cce5e4b005b0fdc84b00
Kiefer, E. (2017, July 12). Being Shackled During Labor Is Just One Of Many Indignities Suffered By Women In American Prisons. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.refinery29.com/2017/07/163017/dignity-incarcerated-women-act-prison-reform-bill
Kozlowska, H. (2017, July 12). US lawmakers want to ban shackling pregnant inmates because somehow that’s still legal. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://qz.com/1027177/somehow-its-still-legal-for-us-prisons-to-shackle-pregnant-inmates-and-withhold-tampons/