WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Karen Bass (D-CA) today reintroduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill that would make serious reforms to the way women are treated behind bars.
The bill would make it easier for women behind bars to keep in touch with their families, better prepare incarcerated women to return to their communities, and provide better trauma-informed care for women behind bars (according to a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice, 86 percent of women in jail report having been the victim of past sexual violence and 77 percent report having been the victim of past partner violence).
The bill would also mandate that basic hygienic products be provided to all women behind bars free of charge.
"We profess to be the land of liberty and justice for all, yet while we are only five percent of the globe's population, we lock up one out of every three women on planet Earth," Senator Booker said. "Women face unique circumstances in prison. They are often victims of sexual abuse and trauma, and a majority are moms to small kids. The current federal prison system is not properly designed to address these unique circumstances. Our bill would change that by, among other things, making it easier for women behind bars to keep in touch with their family, and making sure that incarcerated women are getting trauma-informed treatment. It's time we restore justice to our broken justice system."
"For too long, our criminal justice system has treated incarcerated women as an afterthought," Senator Warren said. "The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act starts to change our country's approach to helping women in prison by ensuring that they are treated with dignity and equipping them with the tools, resources, and services they need to successfully return to their families and communities.
"Women account for a larger proportion of our prison population than ever before in our nation's history. For too long they have been left out of criminal justice reform narratives. I'm so proud to be introducing the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act with Senators Booker and Warren, and Representative Bass," Rep. Jayapal said. "This bill would reduce the negative impact incarceration has on children with a parent behind bars, ensure that mothers never have to choose between calling their children or buying a tampon and better prepare incarcerated women to return to their communities. Incarcerated women, like all women, deserve respect. Let's create basic rights and dignity for all women, including those behind bars."
"Our criminal justice system was not designed for women," Rep. Bass said. "The real needs of incarcerated women are rarely contemplated and the escalating number of women who are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses only makes this more and more obvious. We are the wealthiest country in the world, yet when a pregnant woman enters custody, there is no universal minimum standard of care. This is a matter of basic human rights and fundamental decency."
"Thank you, Senators Booker and Warren, and Congresswomen Jayapal and Bass, for shining a bright light on this dark issue. Women in our prisons are too often forgotten, neglected, and deprived of their Dignity. As a woman who spent time in federal prison, I have seen first-hand the trauma, fear, and abuse far too many women have faced prior to and during their incarceration. The Dignity Act will bring about much-needed changes to the way our prison system treats some of the most silenced and vulnerable women in this country. We must continue to fight every day and in every way to improve conditions for women in our prison while also working to end the cycles of incarceration and traumatization that women and girls experience as they interact with our justice system. Prison is no place for women. I look forward to the day when our criminal justice system embraces lives up to our ideals as a nation." Topeka K. Sam, Director of Dignity for Incarcerated Women, #cut50
Booker and Warren first introduced the Dignity Act in 2017. Booker was instrumental in getting three of the billâ??s provisions -- to effectively ban the shackling of pregnant women, require incarcerated individuals be placed within 500 miles of the nearest family member, and provide tampons and pads to all women behind bars free of charge -- in a larger criminal justice package that was signed into law in December 2018, the First Step Act.
At the state level, since the landmark bill's introduction in 2017, 13 state legislatures, including New Jersey, have passed or introduced some version of the bill.
In the New Jersey state legislature, Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez have each introduced versions of the Dignity Act, which is poised to pass the New Jersey Assembly next month, according to local news reports. In the Assembly, the bill cleared the Appropriations Committee in early March.
Specifically, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act would do the following:
Require BOP to create better visitation policies for primary caretaker parents.
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.
Create an ombudsman at the Justice Department to monitor certain violations in prisons.
Prohibit BOP from charging incarcerated persons for phone calls.
Require BOP to make video-conferencing available at every facility free of charge.
Require BOP to provide certain health products, such as soap, shampoo, body lotion, Vaseline, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and aspirin/ibuprofen 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.