On both the federal and state level an overwhelming percentage of inmates are male. It is unsurprising, then, that correctional policies sometimes overlook issues unique to incarcerated women. As women have become the fastest growing population in the American criminal justice system, Texas is beginning to recognize the need to adopt correctional policy specific to females. Female correctional facilities encounter many situations that male correctional facilities do not, and vice versa. To ensure safety for all parties, it is important to recognize and consider these differences when implementing correctional policy.
House Bill 650, brought by Rep. James White, seeks to address some of these issues. Specifically, this bill provides relief to pregnant incarcerated women. In Texas, whenever an inmate is transferred to a medical care facility, it is protocol to handcuff, chain, or shackle them in order to prevent self-harm or harm to others. This, however, is imprudent policy, as it fails to consider the unique needs of pregnant inmates. The current protocol in Texas could be detrimental to the health of mothers and children. House Bill 650 would prevent the unnecessary use of these restraints without forsaking warden discretion. If officials determine a genuine need for these restraints in a situation, they can be used so long as a report is filed explaining the necessity of their use. In addition to relief from restraints, this bill provides educational opportunities to pregnant incarcerated females. These educational tools help mothers learn parenting skills and healthy pregnancy practices.
When chains and shackles are used on a pregnant woman it can be harmful to the mother and her unborn child. House Bill 650 clarifies that unless the woman is deemed a threat to herself, her child, or staff, criminal justice officers should not restrain pregnant inmates. The right to life is not forfeited in a correctional facility, and no unborn child should have to suffer unnecessary pain.
Conservatives fight for increased public safety and lower recidivism rates, and in order to obtain these goals, it is necessary to consider smart policy that accounts for all demographics. To help create safer communities, the criminal justice system should both punish and rehabilitate offenders. Ensuring safety for correctional officers and inmates is key to creating an environment in which Texas can facilitate rehabilitation. The movement advocating for female inmates is commonly referred to as “Dignity for incarcerated women.” Right on Crime acknowledges the importance of human dignity; however, that dignity is inherent. The government cannot bestow something upon a citizen that is already inherently theirs-just as the government cannot take those things away. What government can do, however, is affirm and uphold the dignity of people through institutions.
It may be necessary to restrain inmates in order to prevent harm to themselves and others in certain situations. However, if Texas can ensure safety and avoid unnecessary harm to a woman and her child, it should codify such policies statewide. Government cannot give somebody what is inherently theirs, but we can, and should affirm the dignity of all people.