House passes standard-setting bill for dealing with pregnant inmates

Since 2009, there have been 66 births by women serving time at the state’s women’s prison. Approximately a dozen women incarcerated there at any one time are expecting a child.

Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights) and Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights), HF2833/ SF2423* would set standards and consistency for officials dealing with inmates at local or state correctional facilities. The goal is to improve birth outcomes and promote the infant’s lifelong health and wellness.

Passed 133-0 Thursday by the House, it now goes to the governor. It was passed 59-0 by the Senate May 2.

“I call it the ‘Babies Bill’ because this is about babies of women who are pregnant while incarcerated,” Laine said. “These pregnancies are often unplanned and high risk, compromised by the lack of pre-natal care, poor nutrition, domestic violence, mental illness and/or drug or alcohol abuse. We are constitutionally obligated to provide adequate care of inmates, but we have no laws or statewide standards pertaining to the unique needs of pregnant and postpartum inmates.”

Among its provisions, the bill would:

  • prohibit restraining a woman who is in labor;
  • prohibit the use of waist chains or handcuffs behind the back of a pregnant woman or a woman who has given birth within the preceding three days;
  • require a pregnancy test of every inmate, unless she is over age 50 or refuses the test;
  • require testing a pregnant woman for sexually transmitted diseases;
  • provide appropriate educational materials and resources related to pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, and parenting;
  • provide access to free doula services or services at the inmate’s expense; and
  • provide access to a mental health assessment, and treatment, if necessary, while the inmate is pregnant and postpartum.

Further, an advisory committee may be convened to “consider standards of evidence-based care, treatment and education for incarcerated women and girls who are pregnant or have recently given birth.” A report would be due the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2015.

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    Mike Cook's picture
    Mike Cook

    Mike Cook writes for Session Daily, a publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives.