House passes bill on treatment of incarcerated pregnant women

House passes bill on treatment of incarcerated pregnant women

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 78-21 for a bill regulating the treatment and restraining of Alabama Department of Corrections’ inmates who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

House Bill 230, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, would extend certain federal prison laws to Alabama’s state prisons and county jails.

“The main purpose of this bill is to protect the baby,” Hollis said. 

Hollis said she and other legislators worked with the March of Dimes, the Alabama Prison Birth Project, and other organizations to provide adequate protection for mothers in prison and their babies.

Information on births and pregnancies is not included in the monthly reports that the Alabama Department of Corrections publishes. 

The federal First Step Act places limits on the ways that pregnant women or women in the immediate postpartum stage can be restrained and requires that incidents in which they were restrained be documented in detail, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

House Bill 230 would apply this part of the First Step Act to state prisons as well. 

The bill states that from the time the pregnancy is discovered up until six weeks after birth, leg restraints, waist restraints, or anything that chains her to another woman may not be used. She may only be handcuffed with her hands in front of her body, and that should only be done if deemed absolutely necessary and after birth. Just like federal law, this bill would require detailed documentation if any restraint is used.

Hollis and other sponsoring legislators said that restraining a pregnant woman is a danger to both the mother and the baby because it increases her chances of falling and restricts her from catching herself.

“As a jail administrator, I recognize that some of the things in here may be problematic,” Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, told Hollis. However, he expressed concern with some of the other provisions in the bill that he said will limit the ways jail staff are able to deal with the mental issues pregnant women experience while in custody.

Pregnant inmates and those in the immediate postpartum period also would not be allowed to be placed in solitary confinement. This doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be placed in a hospital room or cell by themselves, but that their contact with other inmates couldn’t be limited.

The bill also prohibits making pregnant women squat or cough during a strip search or mandating a vaginal exam that’s not prescribed and given by a health care professional.

The bill requires that if a woman is suspected to be pregnant or says she may be pregnant, she must be given a pregnancy test within 72 hours. The woman is allowed to refuse testing.

The bill now moves to the Senate with about two weeks remaining in the legislative session.