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. 1490, An Act Relative to the Treatment of Pregnant and Postpartum Inmates in Correctional Facilities. This legislation would assure that pregnancy-related services are provided to incarcerated women with clear health, safety, and continuity standards.
Women are the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system. At any given time there are approximately 450 women at MCI-Framingham. On average, 18 are pregnant and the same number are postpartum. Approximately 3,500 women are sentenced to MCI-Framingham each year, of which 150 to 180 are pregnant.
Approximately, 85 percent of inmate mothers are single parents and were their children’s sole caregiver prior to incarceration. When these women are released from prison they will likely resume their roles as mothers.
A majority of female inmates have been sentenced for non-violent crimes related directly or indirectly to substance abuse. It has also been estimated that between 85 and 90 percent of women inmates have a substance abuse problem.
This bill would provide these vulnerable women with a healthy start to motherhood and provide their innocent newborns with a healthy start in life. In the longer term, the services would encourage a healthy bond between mother and child that will be beneficial for their family life.
Currently, the DOC is required to provide certain pregnancy-related services under a 1992 judicial decision. However, there are virtually no statutory requirements in the General Laws today. I believe the Legislature has a responsibility to be on record as strongly supporting protective measures for these newborns and their mothers and to provide greater permanency and specificity to these health protections for these vulnerable newborns and mothers.
If expecting and new mothers who are incarcerated do receive appropriate health services for themselves and their babies there will be substantial dividends for all of us.
The children born to incarcerated mothers will get a healthy start to life, both physically and emotionally. Their mothers will have been given proper nutrition and childbirth education in the prenatal months. During and after childbirth, new mothers will be given appropriate health services to prevent and protect them from complications and associated conditions relating to childbirth. These newborns have a right to a healthy start in life and they deserve a mother who is healthy as well.
This bill would also end the inhumane practice of shackling women who are in labor. I believe there is no reasonable justification for the practice of chaining women about to give birth. Security risks can be avoided with alternative measures that are not as offensive as this abhorrent practice.
If we do not provide these protections for these new mothers and their babies we will all pay the cost of their physical and emotional problems that will occur with greater frequency. We will pay the cost of treating the health needs of mothers and babies who experience childbirth in an unhealthy environment. We will pay the costs associated with a child who grows up without a healthy maternal bond.
Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. I respectfully request that the Committee adopt a favorable report for H. 1490 as expeditiously as possible.