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Bipartisan Bill Would Improve Conditions For Incarcerated Women In Virginia

Prison tower stands in field

The number of incarcerated women has grown nationwide by over 750% between 1980 and 2017, according to a 2019 study from The Sentencing Project. That’s why a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing legislation that aims to address their health needs.

Del. Kaye Kory (D-Fairfax) said in a press conference Thursday that correctional facilities are antiquated, and not equipped for women. She carried legislation passed in 2018 that ensures free feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women. Now she’s proposing a bill that aims to improve their conditions — especially if they’re pregnant or have recently given birth.

“We need breast pumps, we need refrigerators for breast milk to be kept in. We need different visitation policies so that a woman who has just given birth can have her infant with her or see her infant frequently — no matter how heinous the crime that parent has committed.” Kory said.

Erin Haney with advocacy group #CUT50 said women in Virginia’s correctional facilities struggle to maintain basic dignity.

“The fact that we treat women who are pregnant and incarcerated, so cruelly and that we inflict so much trauma on them is really a national shame,” Haney said.

Haney added that the way women are treated inside the criminal justice system could impact their recidivism rates — and the outlooks of those around them.

“People who have bonds with their families — -while they're inside —  have much better records inside of prison, and they do much better once they're out,” Haney said. “Children in the United States who have system-impacted parents are up to six times more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system themselves.”

The bill, co-sponsored by Republicans Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) and Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland), would also require correctional officers to undergo certain trainings to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women, and come up with guidelines for body cavity searches to ensure women’s privacy. Currently, state law allows prisons and jails to shackle incarcerated women during labor.

The bill has yet to be heard in committee.