Malloy proposal addresses inmate births, other female prisoner issues

The plight of pregnant women at the state's only prison for females has been debated by policy makers in previous years and has surfaced anew since last month's announcement by DOC that two health care workers were placed on leave after an inmate gave birth in her cell on Feb. 13.

On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited a Hartford halfway house with DOC Commissioner Scott Semple to announce a proposal that addresses the protocol for pregnant inmates and other measures to provide a more humane environment for incarcerated women, the vast majority of whom have histories of abuse, trauma, mental health and substance abuse problems. The DOC had announced Feb. 1 that effective in July, inmate health care services will move from UConn Health's Correctional Managed Health Care unit to the Department of Correction.

On an average of once or twice a month, a woman who is incarcerated at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution goes into labor and is taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital to deliver her baby.

A correctional staff member — preferably a female, if one is available — accompanies the inmate from the Niantic women's prison to the New London hospital and maintains visual contact throughout the labor and delivery process.

The prisoner and baby are not allowed to have visitors at the hospital, but medical staff provides the normal course of care and encourages the mother to bathe and feed her newborn child during their hospital stay. Within a couple of days, the baby is sent home with a relative of the prisoner or turned over to the Department of Children and Families for placement in a foster home, and the mother is returned to prison.

Inmate births are common at L+M, and staff can't recall any issues when dealing with the delivery of a child of an incarcerated mother, according to hospital public relations Director Michael O'Farrell.

Twenty-two female prisoners gave birth at hospitals in 2016, and 15 incarcerated women had babies in 2017, according to Department of Correction spokesman Andrius Banevicius. Eleven women currently are pregnant at York.

Malloy made the announcement at the Johnson Silliman House, where young children can stay with their mothers who are re-entering society after incarceration. Banevicius said the purpose of the proposed legislation is to "codify" or put into law policies and practices that already are in place.

The Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women would prohibit shackling of pregnant inmates during labor; require DOC to provide female inmates with feminine hygiene products at no cost; require DOC to establish child-friendly visitation policies; prohibit nonmedical staff of the opposite gender from viewing or interfering with incarcerated women while undressing, using toilet facilities or showering; require DOC to establish and provide parenting support as well as prenatal and postpartum services.

The bill requires state agencies to recognize the unique risks and needs of female offenders, require gender-specific and trauma-related training for corrections staff and requires DOC to develop and implement a policy regarding transgender inmates.

"Individuals in our criminal justice system deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity, and human decency," Malloy said in a statement. "Incarcerated women face unique challenges and barriers to success — a consideration that should be reflected in our policies. The legislation announced today will further the strides Connecticut has made in improving our criminal justice system to one based on reform instead of permanent punishment, while at the same time reducing crime."

Over the years, the legislature has considered proposals to install a nursery at York that would enable mothers with relatively short sentences to bond with their babies. None of the proposals has made it into law, and some who object say prison is not an appropriate environment for children.

k.florin@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the date that an incarcerated woman gave birth in her cell at York Correctional Institution.

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