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Reps. Bass, Clark, Reschenthaler and Lesko Introduce Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Focused on Women in Prison

July 22, 2020
Press Release
WASHINGTON - Today, Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, along with Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA), Vice-Chair of the Democratic Caucus, Congressman Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), introduced the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act to provide a national standard of care to address pregnancy-related needs of incarcerated women during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum periods.

“Our prison system was not created with women in mind and as a result continually fails to provide basic necessities to tens of thousands of individuals who are incarcerated every single day,” said Congressmember Bass. “Especially amid a pandemic, it is incumbent upon Congress to ensure that we are not inadvertently matching petty crimes with death sentences. I’m proud to be introducing this bipartisan bill to make sure that we are mindful and responsible for the health and wellness of pregnant women in prison. That means an appropriate diet, it means access to appropriate medical assistance, and it certainly means stopping the shackling of pregnant inmates. Although it’s beyond the scope of this bill, it is important that we not normalize the incarceration of pregnant women. In fact, we should examine whether incarcerating pregnant women at all is the best way to address public safety.”

“I’m proud to join Reps. Bass, Lesko, and Clark in introducing this bipartisan legislation to protect the health and wellness of pregnant and postpartum women in prison,” said Congressman Reschenthaler. “By providing incarcerated women with access to pregnancy-related health care and services, we can ensure better outcomes for both mothers and babies. I look forward to advancing the Pregnant Women in Custody Act and urge my colleagues to support this commonsense legislation.”

“Shackling women during childbirth is cruel, unnecessary, and puts both the mom and baby in harm’s way,” said Congresswoman Clark. “With this legislation, we are putting an end to this inhumane practice while investing resources into the mental and physical health of incarcerated women and ensuring that we have the data to provide them necessary care and treatment. This bill is a step forward as we look to reform our criminal justice system and end abusive practices that are disproportionately levied against Americans of color.”

“I am proud to join my bipartisan colleagues in introducing this important legislation to protect women and babies in America’s prisons,” said Congresswoman Lesko. “It is important that we protect life and provide a safe environment for the rising number of incarcerated expectant mothers and their babies. With its data collection, health care standards, and training, I’m hopeful this bill will improve conditions for expectant mothers.” 

Specifically, the Pregnant Women In Custody Act will do the following:

Data collection on pregnant inmates

  • Require the Department of Justice to collect data on women's mental and physical health in federal, state, tribal, and local corrections, focusing on pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Addressing the pregnancy and childbirth-related needs of incarcerated women

  • Prohibit restraints and restrictive housing on federal prisoners who are pregnant or who have given birth within the last eight weeks.
  • Establish minimum standards for healthcare for pregnant women, fetuses, and newborns in federal custody, and require the DOJ to develop training programs and guidelines for federal correctional officers and US marshals, in consult with healthcare professionals
  • Require reporting on the use of restraints and restrictive housing on any inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or recovering from child birth to the agency director. Each year, a summary of these reports must be submitted by the agency director to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

Training and technical assistance

  • Direct the DOJ, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to fund training and technical assistance to state and local corrections and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that restraints and restrictive housing are used in accordance with state laws.

State incentives to prohibit unnecessary restraints and provide services and programs for pregnant and postpartum inmates

  • Provide competitive grant funding for states that have a law addressing the treatment of incarcerated women that the Attorney General (AG) determines meets or exceeds federal standards established in this legislation.
  • Provide a preference in grant funding to states that have enacted or implemented services or pilot programs to address the needs of incarcerated pregnant women.

In July of 2019, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime held a hearing to examine the unique ways women become trapped in our system, the unique abuse they face in prison, and the unique challenges they face after they have served their sentences. Watch that hearing here.

Read the full bill here.