Geiss Introduces Legislation Protecting Pregnant Incarcerated Women

LANSING — Today, Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) was joined by prison reform advocates at a press conference to introduce legislation ensuring the humane treatment of pregnant individuals who are incarcerated, as well as legislation to create an advisory board.

“Prison is an awful place for those who are pregnant. It exposes them to trauma, risk of violence, communicable diseases, poor nutrition, social isolation, and damaging disconnection from their newborns or other children,” Sen. Geiss said. “This legislation would make sensible changes to current law, so incarcerated individuals are treated humanely and with dignity.”

Senate Bill 830 would create Standards of Care for pregnancy in prison, including:

The legislation was introduced alongside Senate Bill 831, which creates an advisory board to oversee conditions of confinement for all women at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, the only all-women prison in Michigan. 

“The so-called ‘standards and care’ for people giving birth while incarcerated are too low and inhumane for a civilized society,” said Siwatu-Salama Ra, a formerly incarcerated woman who gave birth in shackles. “Basic human health and decency demands pregnant people not be shackled, be able to breastfeed, and have loved ones present during the inherently stressful process of giving birth.”

Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have anti-shackling legislation for pregnant individuals, despite research by the American Psychological Association indicating such restraints can obstruct necessary medical care and lead to extreme physical pain and complications during labor because of the mother’s inability to move freely.

Ashley Scott, a formerly incarcerated mother and activist, added, “The current conditions surrounding people giving birth while incarcerated leave little to no room for any human decency. Mother and child need an intimate setting that promotes love and community, allows for the opportunity to establish a lasting bond and prevents long term trauma. This birthing experience does not include the presence of armed officers and painful shackles.”  

Members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Michigan Criminal Justice Program were also at the press conference to support the bills.

“The lives of women who are now behind bars were often marked by poverty, violence, abuse, assaults, and, sometimes, substance use disorder as a culmination of all this trauma. These are the people who most deserve our care — those who have fallen through the safety net and are now trying to heal in a place surrounded by apathy and razor wire,” said Jacqueline Williams with the AFSC Michigan Criminal Justice Program. “For the most vulnerable, those who are pregnant in prison, these bills can save the lives of future generations while uplifting those who are desperate for the public to look inside and understand the reality of what they’ve been through, and what they’re still forced to endure.”

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