U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is introducing a bi-partisan measure to help guarantee the health and safety of women who are pregnant and give birth while in federal custody, as well as to encourage states to pursue reforms that would ensure adequate protections for such inmates.
The Bowling Green Republican is joining with New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in sponsoring the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018.
It would prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing on pregnant federal inmates and incentivize states to adopt similar practices by leveraging existing federal assistance programs. It will serve as a companion bill to a measure that was introduced in the House in September.
"While debates over the best ways to address problems in our criminal justice system have been occurring for years, there are some reforms that are just common sense, like protecting the health of pregnant incarcerated women and their unborn children,” Paul said.
“An incarcerated individual is still a human being whose life deserves to be valued and protected, which is why our proposal prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant federal inmates, particularly when they are in labor, and ensures these women are treated with compassion and respect as they bring new life into the world,” he said.
“This legislation would create and uphold a national standard of care for mothers who are serving their time in an already flawed criminal justice system in dire need of reforms,” Gillibrand said. “Congress should be protecting and valuing mothers wherever they are in our society, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan legislation.”
More than 2,000 women give birth while in custody each year. During their pregnancies and in postpartum recovery, a majority of pregnant inmates are placed in restraints and restrictive housing, even during labor.
The two said the use of such restraints can lead to muscle tears, bone separation, blocked blood circulation, and miscarriage. Placing pregnant inmates in restrictive housing creates a risk of mental and physical harm from a lack of medical and nutritional care.
While 25 states and the District of Columbia have already restricted the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, no federal law exists prohibiting that practice.
This bill does not call for new funding, but rather provides incentives by asking the Department of Justice to prioritize awards from existing grant programs to states who have made these changes.
There’s no word yet on when the legislation will be taken up in committee.