U.S. Senators Introduce the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act

U.S. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Richard Durbin (IL), and Kamala Harris (CA) have introduced a landmark bill to reform the way women are treated behind bars.

The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (S. 1524) 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.

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

  • Reform Visitation Policies by requiring the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to consider location of kids when placing incarcerated persons in prison facilities and create better visitation policies for primary caretaker parents.
  • Address the Treatment of Incarcerated Women by prohibit the solitary confinement of pregnant women and banning the shackling of pregnant women.
  • Provide Programming that would provide parenting classes to primary caretaker parents and trauma informed care to individuals who are primary caretaker parents and train correctional officers on how to handle victims of trauma.
  • Provide Oversight by creating an ombudsman at the Justice Department to monitor certain violations in prisons.
  • Address Communications Challenges by prohibiting BOP from charging incarcerated persons for phone calls and requiring BOP to make video-conferencing available at every facility free of charge.
  • Address Healthcare Needs by requiring BOP to provide certain health products, such as tampons and pads, free of charge to incarcerated people, restricting BOP employees from entering restrooms of incarcerated individuals of the opposite sex except in exigent circumstances and allowing all pregnant women and primary caretaker parents to enroll in the Residential Drug Abuse Program.
  • Improving Visitation by requiring BOP to create an overnight visit pilot program for children and parents.

The legislation would affect the nearly 12,695 women in federal prisons ― almost 60 percent of whom were convicted of drug offenses ― but not those in state prisons and local jails, where the majority of women are held. In Louisiana, there are no federal facilities housing female inmates, which is why we need to advocate for reforms such as this at the state and local level.

In 2012, Louisiana legislature passed the Safe Pregnancy for Incarcerated Women Act, which limits the use of restraints on pregnant women and prohibits their use during labor and delivery except under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, few Parish prisons have updated their policies to comply with this law.

We applaud this national effort to reform federal prisons to address the needs of women and their families and are committed to pushing for similar reforms in Louisiana. 

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