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Former female inmate’s call for Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act

January 13th, 2020
topic:Women's rights
by:Yair Oded
located in:USA
tags:Change.org, criminal justice, petition, US Congress, USA, women prisoners, women's rights

Women are the fastest growing prison population in the United States. Other than constituting yet another indication of how deeply flawed the American criminal justice system is, this fact has brought to light the incompetence of federal and private prisons in providing female inmates (particularly pregnant ones) proper medical care and protection from the rampant physical and sexual abuse they are subject to in detention.

A Change.org petition launched by Pamela Winn, a victim herself of gross mistreatment and abuse behind bars, galvanises support for the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. A piece of legislation currently making its way through Congress, it would provide better trauma-informed care and health services for women in prison, facilitate and strengthen their communication with their families and children, and help them reintegrate into their communities once released.

Winn, a registered nurse and a single mother of two sons, was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison for a white-collar crime. Winn was also six months pregnant at the time she began serving her prison sentence. 

“Anytime I was transported, I was chained at my ankles with another chain around my waist that bound my hands in front of my belly”, Winn recalls in her petition. During one instance of being forced to board a van while shackled, Winn tripped and shortly thereafter began spotting with streaks of blood. Although Winn reported her situation to the medical staff immediately, they said they had no means of caring for her and would need the approval of the US Marshals to take her to the Emergency Room. It took four weeks for the approval to arrive, alas Winn was then turned away from the ER because her situation was no longer regarded as an emergency. 

It took four more weeks to receive an approval for an obstetrician, during which Winn was held in solitary confinement for “medical observation.”

Twenty weeks into her pregnancy, Winn miscarried. She was alone, with no adequate care available. “While I was miscarrying, I lay wet in a pool of blood, curled up from excruciating pain, in complete darkness, locked in a cell until an officer made rounds. I suffered the entire miscarriage shackled to the bed,” Winn recounted, adding that “when asked, the officers told the nurse and myself that the linen which contained my unborn child had been thrown in the trash.”

Winn’s ordeals did not end there. She was given no opportunity to mourn her baby and had no privacy following her miscarriage. “Male officers were at my bedside 24 hours observing my nakedness and any treatment given to me,” Winn wrote in her petition. She continued to be transferred between different facilities where she was held up in solitary confinement.

Her full testimony is available in a YouTube video linked to her petition. 

Unfortunately, Winn’s story is but one out of many. Across the U.S., women are subject to mistreatment and abuse in prisons, both federally-run and private ones. They are also prevented from maintaining proper communication with their loved ones (including their children). As demonstrated by Winn’s horrifying experience, pregnant women lack access to proper medical services and are subject to shackling and solitary confinement. 

Mistreatment of women behind bars often magnifies trauma they sustained before life in prison. According to a research by the Vera Institute of Justice, 86 percent of incarcerated women in the United States report they were sexually assaulted in the past, while 77 percent of them indicate they suffered from some form of domestic abuse. 

The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which was re-introduced in April 2019 by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congress members Pramila Jayapal (D- WA) and Karen Bass (D- CA), seeks to pass reforms that would guarantee the safety and well-being of female prisoners across the country.

The bill would stipulate the mandatory distribution of basic hygiene products free of charge to all incarcerated women, terminate the solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant women and provide proper trauma-informed care for women. 

The proposed law would also make it significantly easier for female inmates to stay in constant touch with their families and children, by introducing free parenting classes and video conferencing, as well as an overnight visitation program for children and parents. 

"For too long, our criminal justice system has treated incarcerated women as an afterthought," Senator Warren said in a statement back in April. "The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act starts to change our country's approach to helping women in prison by ensuring that they are treated with dignity and equipping them with the tools, resources, and services they need to successfully return to their families and communities.”

Winn’s Change.org petition has so far garnered over 192,000 signatures out of its goal of 200,000.

Please consider adding your name to the growing list of people urging Congress to pass the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.

You may also follow Pamela Winn on Twitter or visit her organisation’s website and support her efforts to restore justice and dignity to incarcerated women. 

Article written by:
yair oded profile
Yair Oded
Author, Project Editor, Contributing Editor
USA
Women are the fastest growing prison population in the United States
A Change.org petition launched by Pamela Winn, a victim herself of gross mistreatment and abuse behind bars, galvanises support for the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
A piece of legislation currently making its way through Congress that would provide better trauma-informed care and health services for women in prison, facilitate and strengthen their communication with their families.