March 26, 2019, Morgan B. Cephas - The Philadelphia Inquirer
A recent report from the Philadelphia Women’s Commission shows that as of July 2018, there were 453 women held in custody of the Philadelphia Prison Department. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that nationwide, women are the fastest growing prison population, with majority of female prisoners incarcerated for non-violent offenses with an overwhelming number of them victims of sexual assault and the majority of them primary caregivers for young children. In addition, the criminal justice and prison systems, which have historically serviced a majority male population, lack many of the policies and resources that address the unique needs of female bodied prisoners.
As a legislator, I believe that it is essential for us to hold the systems that service these populations accountable for addressing distinctive needs – a benefit that impacts rehabilitation and development and which contributes to overall safer communities.
Two of the first issues that I came across concerning dignity for incarcerated women related to the inhumane shackling of women in labor and lack of access to feminine hygiene products. These two issues brought to light both the smaller and larger particular needs of incarcerated women. My role as a Commissioner on the Philadelphia Commission for Women, which works to improve the lives of Philadelphia’s women, girls and individuals who identify as female, positioned me to delve deeper into the conversation.
As daunting as the statistics are, it is the stories that some of the previously and currently incarcerated women tell that might haunt you. Ones like that of Mary Baxter who endured 43 hours of labor, shackled to a hospital bed, before she gave birth to her son by emergency C-section. After delivery, she was then placed in solitary confinement post-delivery because the facility in which she was housed had nowhere else to place someone in her “condition.”