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Senator Gillibrand introduces bipartisan legislation to protect pregnant women in prison


WASHINGTON, D.C -- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) today introduced the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation that would create a national standard of care for pregnant and postpartum women in federal prisons, prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing on pregnant and postpartum women, and require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect data on the mental and physical health of pregnant women in custody. According to the DOJ, over 2,000 women give birth while in custody each year, and during the course of their pregnancies and in postpartum recovery, a majority of pregnant women are placed in restraints and restrictive housing. While New York, at least 24 other states, and the District of Columbia currently limit or prohibit the use of restraints, there is currently no federal law that prohibits these harmful applications of force in federal prisons. The use of restraints on pregnant women can lead to muscle tears, bone separation, blocked blood circulation, and in some cases, miscarriage. When pregnant women are placed in solitary confinement, they are put at risk of mental and physical harm due to a lack of medical and nutritional care.

“Pregnancy and childbirth take an enormous physical toll on women’s bodies and require consistent medical attention, but in many states across our country, incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women are often restrained or placed in solitary without access to adequate medical and nutritional care. This inhumane and archaic treatment of pregnant women and new mothers is why I am proud to introduce the Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This legislation would create and uphold a national standard of care for mothers who are serving their time in an already flawed criminal justice system in dire need of reforms. Congress should be protecting and valuing mothers wherever they are in our society, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan legislation.”

"While debates over the best ways to address problems in our criminal justice system have been occurring for years, there are some reforms that are just common sense, like protecting the health of pregnant incarcerated women and their unborn children. An incarcerated individual is still a human being whose life deserves to be valued and protected, which is why our proposal prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant federal inmates, particularly when they are in labor, and ensures these women are treated humanely as they bring new life into the world,” said Senator Paul.

“It is unacceptable that some of our nation's correctional institutions still regularly subject women to solitary confinement and the use of physical restraints during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. I applaud Senators Gillibrand and Paul for introducing legislation to provide care to women in custody that will help ensure healthy pregnancies and babies and to collect critical information about the needs of this population,” said Dr. Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association.

The Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2018 would create a national standard of care for incarcerated pregnant women, women in labor, and postpartum women. It would also prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing on federal prisoners who are pregnant or who have given birth within the last eight weeks.

Specifically, the bill would do the following:

  • Establish minimum standards for healthcare for pregnant women and newborns in federal custody. This bill would require the DOJ, in consultation with health care professionals, to develop training programs and guidelines for federal correctional officers and US marshals.
  • Require DOJ to collect data on pregnant and postpartum women’s mental and physical health in federal, state, tribal, and local correctional facilities.
  • Provide federal training and technical assistance to state and local correctional facilities. This bill would direct the DOJ, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to provide training and technical assistance to state and local corrections officers, health professionals, and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that restraints and restrictive housing are used in accordance with state laws.
  • Incentivize states to prohibit the use of restraints and restrictive housing, and provide services and programs for incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women. The bill would give priority in awarding existing competitive grant funding to states that currently have a law addressing the treatment of incarcerated women that meets or exceeds the federal standard as determined by the Attorney General of the United States.