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Kentucky Dignity Bill: A Game-Changer for Women Behind Bars

A Kentucky state senator says prisons are ill-equipped to handle the recent rise in the female population. (Pixabay)
A Kentucky state senator says prisons are ill-equipped to handle the recent rise in the female population. (Pixabay)
March 28, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A Kentucky lawmaker is hopeful that a bill that would help improve outcomes for women in prison soon will be approved by the House.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, co-sponsored Senate Bill 133, which she said would address unfavorable conditions for women in prison, including access to basic health and hygiene services. The state's correctional facilities were originally built for men, she said, and are ill-equipped to handle the recent rise in the female population.

"Our female prison population is struggling to get the personal items they need, feminine-hygiene products, and there's even a lot of problems with them having undergarments that are appropriate," she said. "And in Kentucky, we still shackle women while they're giving birth."

Adams said one in four women entering the prison population either has an infant or is pregnant, and some are struggling with drug addiction. SB 133, which she called the "Dignity Bill," also would allow pregnant women in prison to enter drug treatment to help them deliver a healthy baby, and end the practice of shackling pregnant women during labor.

Jennifer Hancock, president of Volunteers of America Mid-States in Louisville, which provides addiction services for mothers and pregnant women, predicted that the bill would promote quicker access to treatment services for women who otherwise may spend their pregnancy behind bars. She contended that it's needed now more than ever.

"Some of the drugs of the past, still highly addictive, but women were able to more successfully remain abstinent during their pregnancies," she said, "and that game has changed in the face of the opioid crisis."

Some opponents have said allowing pregnant women to be released from jail for drug treatment could be problematic, opening a window for drug crimes. However, Adams argued that it will help break the cycle of addiction in families, and thus is a good return on investment.

"Delivering a baby that has been stepped down and is not a neonatal abstinence syndrome baby, that saves the state hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said. "And so, not only is this the right thing to do, it saves taxpayer money."

SB 133 passed the Senate earlier this month and recently was sent to the House Rules Committee. Details of the bill are online at lrc.ky.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - KY