Issues regarding incarcerated females have been raised by five female criminal justice advocates at the 2018 American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
The title of the CPAC panel: “Dignity for Incarcerated Women: Is It Really Necessary to Shackle Women in Labor?”
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime. One in three women and one in four men in the United States has experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Husbands are five times more likely to kill wives than vice versa. A third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate male partner or ex-partner, according to FBI reports. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndv0312.pdf
“People wonder if this is really a significant issue,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network. “Yes. It is traumatizing not just for the woman giving birth but it also impacts the family and certainly there is research that says it impacts the bond between the mother and child.”
Only 21 states have outlawed the practice of shackling imprisoned women in labor.
“In some cases, the babies are taken away from the mothers without the mother having the chance to even hold her newborn baby,” the Christian Post reported.
“Half of the state’s foster-care population is made up of children with opioid-addicted parents,” reports Bloomberg according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican. BUSINESSWEEK.com Oct. 9, 2017
According to Harris, about one in four female inmates is either pregnant or has a child younger than the age of one.
Other issues raised by the panel:
Lack of access to children.
“Most of the women that I have encountered had substance abuse issues. It’s really, really hard to get the woman to focus in on her substance abuse issues when she doesn’t know where her kids are,” said Kathleen Dennehy, former head of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.
Females face a lack of necessary hygiene items, such as sanitary pads
“We have been working on bills in some states to make sure that women have the sanitary items they need,” said Jessica Jackson Sloan, a human rights lawyer and the co-founder of #cut50, a national movement to lower the U.S. incarceration rate.
Sloan also shared the story of one of her employees, a formerly incarcerated woman. “She knew what it was like to not have enough sanitary items that she would literally have to choose between bartering to get them or just staying in her cell for a week at a time when it was that time of the month.”
Women’s lack of privacy from male guards while they are in the shower or receiving medical attention
“We had one woman who was providing testimony in California that she went into medical and had a male guard see her in a state of undress and how that traumatized her from ever wanting to go back to medical for the next 10 years she was incarcerated,” said Sloan.
Policies vary by state and prison, but there are some efforts to fix these injustices. According to the Christian Post, Kentucky is working on a bill to ban shackling during labor and mandate appropriate nutrition for pregnant inmates.
Sloan spoke of a California bill to “get male guards out of bathrooms in medical areas.” She also said that Arizona had passed a bill to increase the monthly ration for sanitary pads and toilet paper for female inmates.
Kate Trammel, the senior state campaign manager for Prison Fellowship, said that although people were working for change in many states, she doesn’t think these female inmate issues are as high profile as they should be. “I work in state policy, and I rarely hear it discussed…But it is very much a real problem.”
Trammel added that because most females are in prison for non-violent crimes, they will benefit from the current push to reduce mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses. But female issues that don’t apply to men are apt to get left behind.