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Senators Booker, Warren, Durbin, Harris Introduce Landmark Bill to Reform the Way Women Are Treated Behind Bars

Women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison population

July 11, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) today introduced a landmark bill to reform the way women are treated behind bars.

The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act would make a series of common-sense reforms to how the federal prison system treats incarcerated women in order to reduce the negative impact incarceration has on the family members of women behind bars, especially their children, and better prepare incarcerated women to return to their communities.

“For too long issues affecting women have been left out of the conversation about prison reform -  that ends today,” Senator Booker said. “A majority of women behind bars are mothers and nearly three-quarters have been the victims of trauma or abuse. We must take these circumstances into account when we place women in prison facilities. That means common-sense changes such as considering where an incarcerated mother’s kids live when assigning a prison location, providing phone calls to home free of charge for primary caretakers, and banning the shackling and solitary confinement of pregnant women.”  

“The Dignity for Women Act starts to change our country’s approach to helping women in prison. It’s about living up to our nation’s commitment that every person is treated with dignity and has a real opportunity to build a future,” Senator Warren said. “This legislation will help ensure that incarcerated women have the tools, resources, and services they need to maintain and strengthen ties to their families and to go back into their communities with the skills they need to be successful.”

"Incarcerated women face unique challenges and therefore deserve specific protections while they serve out their sentences,” Senator Durbin said.  “I have long pushed for an end to solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant women. These practices are severe and lead to serious, long-lasting harm.  I’m proud to see these measures included in the legislation and will continue working with my colleagues to enact smart, fair reforms to our justice system.”

“The drastic increase in the women’s prison population has destroyed communities, torn families apart and done little to promote public safety,” Senator Harris said. “This has also had a deep impact on children. In order to create lasting improvements to public safety we have a responsibility to not only reunite women inmates with their families, but to also support the rehabilitation and re-entry of these women inmates into society. In doing so, we must improve the environment in prisons to ensure they are able to maintain a level of dignity and respect.”

Specifically, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women would do the following:

Visitation

  • Require the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to consider location of kids when placing incarcerated persons in prison facilities.
  • Require BOP to create better visitation policies for primary caretaker parents.

Treatment

  • Prohibit the solitary confinement of pregnant women.
  • Ban the shackling of pregnant women.

Programming

  • Require BOP to provide parenting classes to primary caretaker parents.
  • Mandate BOP provide trauma informed care to individuals who are primary caretaker parents and train correctional officers on how to handle victims of trauma.
  • Allow returning citizens to mentor current incarcerated people and assist with reentry.

Oversight

  • Create an ombudsman at the Justice Department to monitor certain violations in prisons.

Telecommunications

·         Prohibit BOP from charging incarcerated persons for phone calls.

·         Require BOP to make video-conferencing available at every facility free of charge.

Health

  • Require BOP to provide certain health products, such as tampons and pads, free of charge to incarcerated people.
  • Restrict BOP employees from entering restrooms of incarcerated individuals of the opposite sex except in exigent circumstances.
  • Allow all pregnant women and primary caretaker parents to enroll in the Residential Drug Abuse Program.

Overnight Visit Pilot Program

  • Require BOP to create an overnight visit pilot program for children and parents.