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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 7718, the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act

Washington, September 15, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 7718, the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act: 

"Women are the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population in the United States.  But, as originally developed, our carceral system was geared toward housing men, who comprised—and who still comprise—the majority of the population in prisons and jails across the country.  As a result, our system of prisons and jails routinely fails to provide what women in custody require—let alone to address the very particular needs of pregnant and postpartum women. 

"H.R. 7718, the 'Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act' is a carefully thought-out, broad and comprehensive effort to meet the needs of this particularly vulnerable population while in custody.

"The bill does this by mandating the development of specific policies, guidelines and trainings for the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service that pertain to pregnant and post-partum women; by banning restraints and restrictive housing for this population; and by directing the collection of demographic and other data on pregnant and postpartum women in Federal, State, local, and Tribal facilities—to help us calibrate any future legislation. 

"In addition to these important measures on the federal level, H.R. 7718 also addresses the needs of States and localities.  It directs a GAO study of the services and protections in local and State correctional settings that are available for incarcerated pregnant women.  And it establishes a grant program, to be administered by the Department of Justice, to provide support to State and local facilities to implement programs equivalent to the federal programs developed by this bill.

"One particularly important portion of this legislation concerns restrictive housing, which is also often described as solitary confinement.  Only about half of the States have proposed or enacted legislation to regulate the use of restrictive housing.  In the First Step Act, the federal government, too, regulated the use of solitary confinement—but only for juveniles.

"H.R. 7718 would ban restrictive housing for pregnant and postpartum women, except if such housing is required as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm.  Before placing a woman in restrictive housing, the bill would require an individualized determination, made by officials at the highest levels, which would be subject to ongoing review and monitoring, including the development of an individualized plan to move the woman to less restrictive housing within a reasonable amount of time, not to exceed 2 days.  

"According to the Vera Institute, 'over 150 years of research in psychiatry, neuroscience, epidemiology, and anthropology has documented the harmful effects of restrictive housing on the health and well-being of incarcerated people.'  This legislation recognizes that, as an especially vulnerable population, pregnant and postpartum women in federal custody must be protected from the deleterious effects of placement in restrictive housing.

"I want to commend the author of H.R. 7718, Crime Subcommittee Chair Karen Bass, for her leadership in developing this bipartisan legislation—along with Mr. Reschenthaler and Ms. Lesko—and I urge all my colleagues to support the bill."
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