by David M. Reutter
As the incarceration rate for women has grown throughout the nation, so has the focus on how they are treated while imprisoned. With the recent enactment of a new state law, Georgia joined the majority of states that have adopted statutes to protect pregnant prisoners.
The Georgia Dignity Act, HB 345, was hailed as a great humanitarian advancement.
“Women are the fastest-growing population in American prisons and the treatment they endure behind bars is undignified and cruel,” said Michael Mendoza, national director of #cut50. “We are proud to work with so many incredible advocates to improve conditions, ensure safety, and fight for critical protection for incarcerated women. We will continue to fight for their dignity across the country.”
PLN has reported numerous cases involving women giving birth alone in jail cells or while shackled to a hospital bed. After Pamela Winn suffered a miscarriage when she was held at the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Georgia, a federal detention center privately operated by GEO Group, she decided that she would act to change the laws upon her release.
Winn, who was pregnant at the time, was shackled with her wrists attached to a belly chain as she hobbled toward a transport van when she fell and could not catch herself. “From that point is when I started bleeding,” she said. She requested medical attention, but it took 12 weeks before she received any. Then, one night as she was bleeding and cramping, and shackled to her bed, she suffered a miscarriage and was taken to a hospital.
When she asked where her baby was, guards said they had thrown the remains out with her bed sheets. She was then returned to a confinement cell.
“I think that’s what’s really driven me to do this work and to fight for these laws to be passed,” said Winn, who is the executive director of RestoreHER. “The fact that they tell you there’s nothing you can do, that didn’t sit well with my soul to know that someone can treat a person like this.”
The Georgia Dignity Act, which went into effect on October 1, 2019, provides “for prohibited practices related to a pregnant female inmate in the second or third trimester or a female inmate who is in the immediate postpartum period.” In addition to banning the use of restraints on such women, the law prohibits them from having to squat and cough during strip searches, being subject to vaginal examinations unrelated to the pregnancy, or placement in solitary confinement that is not in a medical setting. Additionally, the legislature expressed a desire for pregnant women awaiting transport to a state prison to “be transferred as expeditiously as possible.”
“When I was in solitary confinement trying not to lose my mind over the guilt and sadness I felt for the loss of my baby, I felt hopeless and helpless,” said Winn. “By grace, I made it through and returned home with the desire to change things for all the sisters I left behind. Today, I’m so humbly excited to see my dream become reality. No other woman in Georgia will have to endure the dehumanizing and torturous treatment that I experienced.”
The law also ensures that women prisoners have access to feminine hygiene products, requires corrections staff to take gender-sensitivity training, and requires the state prison system to take into account the location of a female prisoner’s spouse and children when making prison housing decisions. With the enactment of Georgia’s new law, only five states, including Florida, allow the shackling of prisoners during labor and childbirth.
Sources: news-daily.com, wabe.org, womeninandbeyond.org, theroot.com, restoreher.us
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