At the end of April, the ACUF Center for Criminal Justice Reform team traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan for ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force Meeting. It was there that legislators from all over the country, as well as a multitude of organizations, heard from criminal justice reform activists such as Prison Fellowship’s President, Craig DeRoche who discussed federal reentry initiatives, or Right on Crime’s Vice President on Criminal Justice Policy, Marc Levin, who discussed criminal justice fines and fees with lawmakers across the country. The Task Force was also set up to listen to, introduce, and vote on model legislation which is why we were there.

At the meeting, David Safavian and Kaitlin Owens discussed the topic of giving incarcerated women the proper care and dignity they should be receiving while behind bars. Women are the fastest growing segment in our prison population and in order to care for women’s needs, we must first and foremost understand that men and women are made differently and therefore, need to be treated as such.

  • Shackling pregnant inmates– 2,000 women are pregnant behind bars, many are shackled while in labor, and delivering their baby
  • Mothers incarcerated– most women incarcerated are mothers and are sent hundreds of miles away where it impedes on the relationship with their children. Children are 6-7 times more likely to be incarcerated themselves without the proper care of a parent. We have hundreds of women facilities across the U.S. and only 8 of them allow nursery programs to care and tend to their newborn baby.
  • Feminine hygiene– Many women aren’t afforded the necessary healthcare and hygiene products behind bars. A lot of mothers have to choose whether to spend their 12 cents (depending on what facility) on a phone call home to talk to their family/children or pay for feminine hygiene products in order to meet their monthly needs.
  • Sexual assault– 86% of women are sexually assaulted either by a family member or partner before entering the prison system. In most cases male guards, usually armed, are the ones who monitor the female inmates shower time, or in a state of undress. This re-traumatizes the inmate and in some cases, they attempt suicide because the trauma is too overwhelming.

David then went on to discuss that this is a dire issue that many in the criminal justice reform arena tend to overlook. He went on further to discuss how this affects the whole prison population and well-being. David touched on why this is a conservative issue and why ACUF supports these efforts. He wrapped up the discussion by mentioning that we will introduce model legislation of a dignity bill we’d like to see implemented in the states and will be doing so at the annual meeting at ALEC this August, in New Orleans.