Chairwoman Creem, Chairman O’Flaherty, and members of the Committee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today. I am here in support of H. 1488, An Act Relative to Providing Written Health Education Information to Incarcerated Women by Correctional Institutions. I believe this legislation is imperative to ensure that incarcerated women understand the importance of birth control methods. In addition, studies have shown that offering contraceptive services within a correctional setting led to a much higher rate of initiating birth control use than solely connecting women to free contraceptive services in the community.
Approximately 7,000 women pass through the Massachusetts state prisons a year, of which about 114 pregnant and postpartum women were held in MCI-Framingham. Female inmates have special medical needs related to reproductive health that need to be identified and appropriately addressed. Studies show that female inmates are at high-risk of having unprotected sex with multiple partners, mental health problems, and addictions. Because this population has a high-risk of unplanned and complicated pregnancies, an opportunity arises to offer reproductive health services to a large population of high risk women who might not otherwise seek health services.
Two states, Rhode Island and Indiana, have similar programs proposed in this legislation. Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) employs one full-time registered nurse educator and one part-time nurse practitioner to address the reproductive health needs of women leaving prison. They provide education on family planning, reproductive health, cancer screening, self-administered breast examinations, and prevention of STIs. At the time of their release, women are offered a follow up appointment at the Community Health Center and made aware of no-cost transportation to said appointment.
In the state of Indiana, the Wishard Health Services program provides incarcerated women a referral for continued contraception and reproductive health care for up to two years to an appropriate health care provider in the area of residence after release. Shortly before release, the women must attend the education session on birth control methods. Individual appointments consist of a brief medical assessment by the nurse practitioner, counseling and education regarding contraceptive concerns and specific information regarding the woman’s contraception of choice. The patient is then provided with that contraceptive. Depo-Provera is available and patients wishing to use oral contraceptives are given a three-month supply. In addition, all offenders get a dozen condoms prior to release. Patients wishing to use a diaphragm or intrauterine device can receive an appointment for counseling and education regarding the method, but will receive placement of the device at their care provider after discharge.
H. 1488 would require the Department of Correction to make available to all women entering the facility written information on women’s health, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections. The Department of Public Health would create the information brochure and it would be offered in the native languages of the incarcerated women. The bill would further require the Department of Correction to offer and provide incarcerated women with access to multiple forms of birth control. Not less than four months prior to the release date of the female prisoner, the medical director of the correctional institution where the female offender is held would offer the prisoner contraception counseling and a gynecological exam including a Pap Test. Upon her release, the female prisoner would also receive a referral to a community health center for follow up care and a twelve month prescription to refill her medication.
Additionally, the legislation would require the superintendent of each correctional institution with incarcerated women to offer courses on health education open to all eligible women. The courses should include, but not be limited to, the following topics: general health, nutrition, mental health, sexual education, domestic violence, substance abuse, women’s health concerns, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and emergency contraception.
Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. I respectfully request that the Committee adopt a favorable report for H. 1488 as expeditiously as possible.