Published On: Sun, Nov 18th, 2018

Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand introduce the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018

Of the 200,000 Women in Custody Each Year, About 12,000 Were Pregnant at the Time of Incarceration

U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will introduce the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation to help guarantee the health and safety of women who are pregnant and give birth while in federal custody, as well as to encourage states to pursue reforms that would ensure adequate protections for such inmates.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
Image/US Congress

The bill would prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing on pregnant federal inmates and incentivize states to adopt similar practices by leveraging existing federal assistance programs. It serves as a companion to H.R. 6805, introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT) in September 2018.

According to the DOJ, over 2,000 women give birth while in custody each year, and during the course of their pregnancies and in postpartum recovery, a majority of pregnant women are placed in restraints and restrictive housing.

Currently no federal law that prohibits these harmful applications of force in federal prisons. The use of restraints on pregnant women can lead to muscle tears, bone separation, blocked blood circulation, and in some cases, miscarriage. When pregnant women are placed in solitary confinement, they are put at risk of mental and physical harm due to a lack of medical and nutritional care.

“While debates over the best ways to address problems in our criminal justice system have been occurring for years, there are some reforms that are just common sense, like protecting the health of pregnant incarcerated women and their unborn children. An incarcerated individual is still a human being whose life deserves to be valued and protected, which is why our proposal prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant federal inmates, particularly when they are in labor, and ensures these women are treated with compassion and respect as they bring new life into the world,” said Senator Paul.

Paul on the campaign trail 2015 Gage Skidmore photo

“Pregnancy and childbirth take an enormous physical toll on women’s bodies and require consistent medical attention, but in many states across our country, incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women are often restrained and placed in solitary without access to adequate medical and nutritional care. This inhumane and archaic treatment of pregnant women and new mothers is why I am proud to introduce the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation would create and uphold a national standard of care for mothers who are serving their time in an already flawed criminal justice system in dire need of reforms. Congress should be protecting and valuing mothers wherever they are in our society, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan legislation.”

Specifically, the bill would do the following:

  • Establish minimum standards for healthcare for pregnant women and newborns in federal custody. This bill would require the DOJ, in consultation with health care professionals, to develop training programs and guidelines for federal correctional officers and US marshals.
  • Require DOJ to collect data on pregnant and postpartum women’s mental and physical health in federal, state, tribal, and local correctional facilities.
  • Provide federal training and technical assistance to state and local correctional facilities. This bill would direct the DOJ, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to provide training and technical assistance to state and local corrections officers, health professionals, and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that restraints and restrictive housing are used in accordance with state laws.
  • Incentivize states to prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing, and provide services and programs for incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women. The bill would give priority in awarding existing competitive grant funding to states that currently have a law addressing the treatment of incarcerated women that meets or exceeds the federal standard as determined by the Attorney General of the United States.
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