Activists call for pregnant inmate protections
Waukesha Pye speaks at the Capitol.

Waukesha Pye
The cost of the legislation could put its passage in jeopardy.

Advocates are urging lawmakers to pass legislation giving pregnant inmates more protections.

Sen. Jason Pizzo is sponsoring CS/SB 852, which unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Tuesday. Rep. Shevrin Jones is sponsoring the House companion bill, which advanced to its final committee stop last week.

Pizzo says he’s fighting to keep the bill alive against concerns that it’s too expensive. He said he is planning to introduce amendments so it will gather enough support to become law. 

“I don’t want women touched, I don’t want invasive body cavity searches, I don’t want any shackles,” he said. “That doesn’t cost any money to stop doing.”

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 the order or security of the prison. It requires the correctional officer to write a report and the medical provider to see the inmate at least every 24 hours. Pizzo’s version of the bill originally called for the medical provider to see the inmate every eight hours, but he filed an amendment to extend the time period to at least once every 24 hours.

The medical provider must order the inmate access to the infirmary if needed, and she must be admitted to the infirmary once she reaches her due date. The legislation would allow the pregnant inmate to retain her access to the class and privileges afforded to the general population.

Waukesha Pye entered prison already pregnant in 2007. She says she was forced to give birth to her daughter Zion with her ankles shackled to the bed. 

“Imagine the discomfort of not being to toss and turn during the pain and agony of labor because I was restrained,” she said. “Thankfully I had a successful childbirth.”

Pregnant women in DOC 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.

The bill is named after 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 the staff she was in labor. Black women, such as Jackson and Pye, are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications as white women.

Jackson’s mother says the family has not seen Tammy’s baby since the birth and doesn’t know where she has been placed.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].


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