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Lawmakers Approve Bill to Help Pregnant Inmates

PHOTO: The Legislature has passed a bill to bring new standards to the treatment and care of pregnant and postpartum inmates, with a goal of healthy babies despite the circumstances. Photo credit: Frank de Kleine/Flickr
PHOTO: The Legislature has passed a bill to bring new standards to the treatment and care of pregnant and postpartum inmates, with a goal of healthy babies despite the circumstances. Photo credit: Frank de Kleine/Flickr
May 12, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Following unanimous approval in both the Minnesota House and Senate, what will be the first state law to consider the unique needs of pregnant inmates now just awaits the signature of Gov. Mark Dayton. The legislation seeks to ensure that these incarcerated women are safe and healthy through pregnancy and postpartum, says Jessica Anderson, legislative associate, Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota.

"The purpose of it is to create healthy beginnings for babies born to incarcerated, pregnant women," Anderson says. "It does that by ensuring that pregnant and postpartum inmates have access to certain standards of care, treatment and education."

Anderson says the women's prison in Shakopee and county jails do have policies pertaining to pregnancy, but they vary depending on location, and this statute will provide consistency across the system.

The bill was developed with the Isis Rising Prison Doula Program, and one of its provisions would allow pregnant inmates access to a certified doula if there is no charge to the facility. The bill also bans the use of restraints, except in extraordinary circumstances, through three days following birth.

"Right now, when a woman gives birth while she's under the care of Shakopee, the moment after she gives birth then she's shackled to the bed again," Anderson explains. "This way, she would be able to recuperate from delivery better."

The bill also creates an ad-hoc advisory committee that Anderson says will convene in the coming months to consider other potential standards.

"This bill is really just a first step in considering the care of this population. We want to look at what additional things we can be doing for these women, as well," she says. "Then we'll come back next legislative session and present to the legislature our findings."

In Minnesota, it's estimated that every year more than 4,000 women are pregnant at the time of their arrest.

Information about the legislation, SF 2423, is available at www.revisor.mn.gov.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN