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Bill To Change How Pregnant Women Are Treated While Incarcerated

Man speaks at podium. He's surrounded by women, one of which holds a sign that reads, "Justice 4 Tammy."
Robbie Gaffney

Dignity Florida is backing bills aimed to change how pregnant incarcerated women are treated. The push comes after a woman gave birth alone in a jail cell. 

Pregnant women in the state’s jails and prisons are supposed to get prenatal counseling, vitamins, exams, and a special diet. They’re also sent to hospitals to give birth. However, last year, an inmate filed an anonymous complaint saying that a woman named Tammy Jackson was ignored while giving birth in her cell. Dignity Florida Campaign Manager Valencia Gunder explains:

woman speaks at podium. She is surrounded by other women.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Valencia Gunder leads Florida Dignity's 1/21/2020 press conference on the "Tammy Jackson Act."

“She was put in solitary confinement and because she was a strong woman she was able to give birth to her child by herself with no medical assistance," Gunder says.

An investigation followed and a redacted report released. It found no misconduct. The report blacked out where Jackson was when she delivered her baby. It also accused Jackson of not being accurate on the details of her due date and being uncooperative. Dignity Florida is pushing an act to change how pregnant women are restrained, searched, and confined in prisons. It would apply to city and county jails as well as state correctional facilities.

“Florida houses the 2nd largest facility—female facility in the country," Gunder says, "That means we are incarcerating women in mass numbers here in our state. We want to be the lead on a lot of things—but not that.” 

Under the proposal, if a pregnant woman is being transported, officers would be limited in how they can restrain her. If a health professional asks for restraints to be removed, the officer must do so unless there is an extraordinary circumstance. And if a pregnant woman needs to be searched, only a medical professional can do so unless a correctional officer believes the woman is hiding contraband. The act would also ban pregnant prisoners from being placed in restrictive housing—with exceptions. Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami) is sponsoring the bill. He says it’s about human decency.

man speaks into microphone at podium. Three women near him look at him.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami) is sponsoring the "Tammy Jackson Act."

“We’re not asking for extraordinary privileges. Just part of the social contract of seeking rehabilitation of people that are incarcerated. This is not a big ask," Pizzo says.

Last year, a bill was signed into law to allow female inmates to get free basic hygiene products like pads and tampons. It’s called the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.

“But even with that passing its very clear that we realized that we could not stop here thanks to Valencia and her team," says Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-Hollywood). He's the act’s sponsor. After learning about Tammy Jackson’s situation, he’s supporting Pizzos bill, "How can we as a state—a large state—allow such treatment of human beings to continue to go on within our criminal justice system?” 

According to the state, about 101 pregnant women were incarcerated from 2018 – 2019. Pizzo’s measure passed its first committee stop. The house version has not yet been heard.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.