Pennsylvania Capital Star: Peter Hall - April 18, 2023
Tonie Willis fought back tears Tuesday after Pennsylvania lawmakers advanced a bill to prohibit the shackling of pregnant women and improve conditions for mothers who give birth behind bars.
As a formerly incarcerated woman and the director of Ardella’s House, a Philadelphia safe house for women recently released from prison, improving women’s maternal health in correctional settings has been a years-long dream to give those paying for mistakes a little more humanity, Willis said.
“I’m not saying open the door and let everyone out. All I’m saying is give these women some dignity,” Willis said. “A part of your rehabilitation is supposed to start while you’re incarcerated. And that’s a part of it … giving them some humanity, treating them like women.”
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously reported out House Bill 900, which, in addition to bans on shackling expectant mothers, includes a host of measures to implement best practices, some of which are already in place in federal prisons.
The bill would also prohibit solitary confinement of pregnant women and full-body searches by male guards.
Other provisions include:
trauma-informed care training for officers working with pregnant or postpartum women,
up to three days for incarcerated mothers to bond with newborns,
adequate visitation time for women who were the sole legal guardian of children when arrested, free feminine hygiene products,
and limited expenses to transport individuals to a safe place upon release.
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