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Congresswoman Karen Bass

Representing the 37th District of California

Rep. Bass Urges Passage Of FIRST STEP Act

December 20, 2018
Press Release
Today, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) delivered the below speech advocating for the passage of the FIRST STEP Act.


Rep. Bass: I rise in support of the FIRST STEP Act. For 40 years, our failure to adequately reform our criminal justice system has resulted in punitive mandatory minimum sentences and mass incarceration. African Americans, Latino, and Native Americans have born the brunt of this legacy. 
Between 1980 and 2014, there was a 700% increase in the number of women in custody. This was nearly twice the rate of male imprisonment. Woman are often held for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. Unfortunately, they are entering a male-centered penal system not defined to meet their physical or mental health needs. 
What is needed is criminal justice reform that understands that women in the system have unique needs. This is the first step toward addressing the needs of women. Improving the health outcomes of pregnant women in custody is in the first step act. My language would restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women, which increases the risk of complications during childbirth. 

Some of the stories shared by women who were restrained by pregnancy are horrific: 
One woman was shackled in labor and dislocated her hip. She experienced stomach muscle tears and an umbilical hernia. 
Another woman tripped over her shackles, fell to the ground, and miscarried at 20 weeks. 
The idea that a woman needs to be shackled in labor and delivery as though she is going to escape while delivering a child is ridiculous, brutal, and a human rights abuse. 
One mother recounted being shackled after having an emergency caesarean section. She stated: “with the weight of the shackles, it felt like they were ripping over my c-section.”
Mr. Speaker, do we have no shame? This egregious abuse of human rights in federal prisons must end. I hope Congress continues to address this issue in the 116th Congress. We will continue to move the needle forward by developing comprehensive criminal justice reform that specifically looks at the needs of women in the system. 
I want to thank the members who supported this legislation and I want to thank Representative Jefferies, Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Collins, and Nadler for introducing and passing the FIRST STEP Act.
I yield.