Legislation giving pregnant inmates more protections is moving through the Legislature, with another hearing this week.
Rep. Shevrin Jones sponsored the House measure (CS/HB 1259), which is now a committee substitute, while Sen. Jason Pizzo is sponsoring the the Senate companion bill (CS/SB 852). Jones’ bill moved to its final committee stop last week. Pizzo will present his legislation in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Tuesday afternoon.
The bills prohibit Department of Corrections staff from involuntarily placing pregnant prisoners in restrictive housing unless it’s necessary to protect the health and safety of the inmate or others, or in the interest of prison security. It requires the correctional officer to write a reporter and a medical provider to see the inmate every 24 hours.
The medical provider must order the inmate get access to the infirmary if needed and must be admitted to the infirmary once she reaches her due date. The legislation would require the pregnant inmate to retain her access to the class and privileges afforded to the general population.
Pregnant women in DOC custody are at a particularly high risk of complications, as their health is often compromised by a lack of prenatal care, poor nutrition, and untreated chronic medical and psychiatric conditions.
Polk County resident Taylor Aguilera spoke in favor of the House bill last week. She said she’s worked in the criminal justice system and the medical care inmates receive is “atrocious.”
“These are people that are mothers, sisters, friends, fathers, cousins,” she said. “These people have real lives inside the jail system and outside. They should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity just as you and I would like to have whenever we go to see our doctors.”
The ordeal of a Florida woman who gave birth in an isolation cell last year drew national attention. Tammy Jackson ended up spending seven hours without medication or seeing a doctor in a Broward County jail after notifying staff that she was in labor. Black women, such as Jackson, are up to four times as likely to die from pregnancy complications as white women.