Dignity for incarcerated pregnant women: Lawmakers push for reforms

Advocates with Dignity Florida pushed the Legislature earlier this year to boost support for pregnant inmates. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Advocates for pregnant women inmates came to the state Capitol Tuesday to retell the traumatic story of Tammy Jackson, an inmate at the Broward County jail who was forced to give birth in an isolation cell.

Jackson miraculously performed a seven-hour labor by herself without medical assistance or medication.

Another horrific tale comes from an Osceola County Jail cell, where Kenzi Dunn was left to miscarry her pregnancy from her cell, after being denied medical attention for days.

Their stories, plus many others, sparked Florida lawmakers to sponsor legislation to ensure proper medical care of incarcerated pregnant women. The bills also aim to reduce unnecessary physical restraints on pregnant women.

The stories were presented by Dignity Florida, a coalition that believes in dignity for women and girls who are incarcerated in prisons and detention facilities. The group is pushing for lawmakers to approve legislation to help incarcerated pregnant women.

The group on the 4th floor of the Capitol held up a sign saying: “Justice 4 Tammy.”

SB 852 passed unanimously in the Senate’s Criminal Justice committee last week. The House version has been introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Senator Jason Pizzo, who filed the bill, was one of several lawmakers at the press conference in support of the bill and touted its bipartisan support. He’s a Democrat representing parts of Miami-Dade County.

“We’re not going to bend and cower on this,” Pizzo said at the press conference.

The treatment of pregnant inmates faces ongoing reform in Florida.

In 2019, House Democrats Shevrin Jones and Amy Mercado pushed a bill, approved by the Legislature and the governor, to ensure incarcerated women get access to adequate sanitation and hygiene products. Jones represents part of Broward County and Mercado represents part of Orange County.

Both will lead this year’s House bill on incarcerated pregnant women.

“When we talked to the members last year and told them that women didn’t have pads at correctional facilities, they were stunned,” said Jones at the press conference.  “So now we’re back again—same forces behind us.”

Valencia Gunder, Dignity Florida campaign manager and campaign director for the New Florida Majority, gave a written statement following the press conference.

“We are proud of the Tammy Jackson Act’s incredible bipartisan support,” she said.

“The population of incarcerated women has increased by 700% in the United States in the last decade and it is important that they are safe, protected and treated with decency, dignity, and respect while in these facilities.”