80% of incarcerated women are mothers

The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act is receiving attention statewide, calling for reforms on how women are treated in Florida prisons. The state Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill, and it will be up for a vote by the full senate. 

The bill covers several concerns that fall under the umbrella of “dignity:” availability of feminine hygiene products, as well as barring male deputies from performing strip and body cavity searches on female inmates. 

In 2015, Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala came under fire after a Miami Herald article reported female inmates claiming that they had been put in positions to barter sexual favors from guards in exchange for hygiene products. 

It certainly paints a distressing picture. The good news? Well, it’s threefold. First, some of these guidelines are already rules of the U.S. Department of Corrections. However, advocacy groups claim that they have not been effectively enforced in Florida prisons. 

Now female prisoners have advocates in Florida elected officials. Broward state Rep. Shevrin Jones and Orange County Rep. Amy Mercado sponsored the House bill that will go to vote next month when the legislature reconvenes. 

The other good news? It appears that the Monroe County Jail is ahead of the pack when it comes to policy for how female inmates are treated. 

Media Relations Director Adam Linhardt said that the policy this bill outlines is already the norm for Monroe County: “For a long time, all female inmates are provided free hygiene products, which would include feminine hygiene products.” 

This is true of male and female inmates — as of press time, the Monroe County Correctional Facility Houses 601 total inmates, of whom 69 are female.  

The jail on Stock Island houses all inmates in the Keys, while the corrections facilities at Plantation Key and Marathon are male only. 

Linhardt added the jail provides female inmates with hygiene products “with no questions asked.” 

He also spoke on the strip and body cavity search stipulations of the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. 

“Deputies do not perform cavity searches here,” Linhardt said.“We have body scanners; if a part of your body does need to be searched, we take inmates to the hospital, so that’s not a factor here.”

There is also a Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act at the federal level, sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, that is still with the Committee on the Judiciary. It takes a broader stance, addressing consideration of the incarcerated woman’s status as a parent — 80 percent of incarcerated women are mothers — and making practices like punishing pregnant women with solitary confinement illegal. 

Linhardt said that while the state bill doesn’t address pregnant females, the Monroe County Jail also has stricter standards for treatment on that front. 

“We do have one pregnant female,” he said, “and they go to medical in the jail daily, and they are on a special diet, and we take them to the doctor or hospital outside of the jail.” Per Monroe County Sheriff’s policy, if a pregnant woman is arrested, she would — and does, in the case of their incarcerated female — maintain regular ultrasounds, doctor’s visits, and pre-natal care. “We contract with doctors in town, and if there is a specialist they require, we take them to Miami, and we pay the bill. If a baby is delivered, it would be at Lower Keys Medical Center. They don’t deliver babies at the jail.”

That seems prudent. 

“This is something Sheriff Ramsay would have instilled regardless, so I don’t foresee this law impacting us. The way I read the law, we are ahead of the curve on this, and it’s really an issue of decent medical care.”

Considering the state of medical care outside of jail, it sounds like incarcerated women expecting children could actually receive better medical care than those outside of corrections facilities. Perhaps the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act could inspire legislation that promotes medical dignity for women, period. 

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