Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act

08/07/2017
Even as criminal justice reform has gained bipartisan attention in recent years, a significant population has been left out of the conversation: women in prison, who often lack protections and basic rights while serving time behind bars.
 
Although men make up the majority of the nation’s prisoners by a significant margin, women are being imprisoned at a much faster rate today. Since 1980, the female prison population has increased by over 700%. Today, there are almost 13,000 women incarcerated in federal prisons alone, putting the US in second place for the highest female incarceration rate in the world. (Thailand is number one). It’s estimated that another almost 100,000 American women are incarcerated in state prisons. Up until a few weeks ago, incarcerated women and their treatment within prison walls had, for the most part, been devoid from national policy conversations.
 
That changed last month, when Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. Though introduced by all Democrats, the bill gets to the heart of human dignity by providing necessary protections to incarcerated women — something Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind. The bill proposes changes to the federal Bureau of Prisons system, and focuses on the needs and treatment of women while they are serving time.
 
While the bill addresses several critical needs, it contains a few provisions that are particularly worth noting.
 
First, the bill addresses the health of incarcerated women, including women who are pregnant. It bans the shackling of pregnant women and prohibits placing pregnant women in solitary confinement. In several states, these practices are still allowed, and in some states, prison guards have the authority to shackle pregnant women even while they are giving birth. The bill would also ensure that feminine hygiene products are provided to women without cost, since incarcerated women are not currently guaranteed access to hygiene products and are often forced to decide between purchasing them and calling home to their loved ones. In some prisons, women are forced to buy sanitary products from outside contractors at high prices or are forced to bargain for them from prison guards.

Moira Griffith and Elizabeth English

Read more