Legislation ensuring that pregnant incarcerated women are transported to an appropriate medical facility without delay, given proper medical care, and not placed in restrictive housing involuntarily while in labor, unanimously passed through the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice with bipartisan support. The Tammy Jackson Act (SB 852, titled Restrictive Housing for Incarcerated Pregnant Women) was filed by Senator Jason Pizzo (D – Miami Dade). On the House side, companion bill HB 1259 sponsored by House Representatives Shevrin Jones (D – Broward) and Amy Mercado (D – Orange and Osceola), has also unanimously passed two of the three committees it was assigned to.
Prior to the committee, Dignity Florida, a coalition led by formerly incarcerated women who believe in dignity for women and girls who are incarcerated, hosted a press conference at the State Capitol Rotunda. The coalition was joined by directly impacted woman and the family of Tammy Jackson – a woman forced to give birth in solitary confinement last year – and they were present in the committee room when the vote occurred and waved in support.
Among the delegation was Waynesha Pye, a Dignity Florida member forced to give birth shackled, chained and tied to a bed while incarcerated. “Imagine giving birth to your firstborn while you’re chained and in bondage, some women, like myself, don’t have to imagine that because it was their reality,” said Pye. “I will never forget the pain and trauma of that day. My legs were in handcuffs and I was chained to a bed. How indecent, I thought.”
Rep. Jones, Sen. Pizzo and Rep. Mercado, each expressed rousing support for HB 1259/SB 852 in their remarks as they stood in solidarity with dozens of formerly incarcerated women at the press conference. Sen. Pizzo remarked, “On the Senate side, there was a unanimous ‘yes’ from everyone in the first committee and we are excited to see the bill pass unanimously again.” Rep. Jones stated, “If you heard the stories, as a human being, you would cringe to hear what women are forced to endure. Tammy Jackson is not the only woman; but she is the last woman. No one deserves this treatment.” Rep. Mercado said, “Tammy did not receive the dignity and childbirth that all women deserve. Therefore, it is imperative to protect every woman who gives birth regardless of who they are, where they are and why they are there.”
“No human being should endure the pain that our incarcerated women endure and this legislation will ensure that all women feel safe and protected, whether they are incarcerated or not,” said Valencia Gunder, Campaign Director for Dignity Florida and the New Florida Majority. “Our women are more than prisoners; they are mothers, nurturers, and caregivers and it is time they are treated as such — with dignity, respect, and humanity. The future is female — she’s strong, she’s Black, she’s Brown and she will not be incarcerated.”
Women who are pregnant neither have a choice or control over when they give birth and putting pregnant women in solitary confinement is inhumane, unsafe and cruel, both for the mother and her child. Currently, Florida has the second-highest incarceration rate for women in the United States, and yet, women’s basic needs and rights are not being met or respected. Ensuring that incarcerated individuals, including those who are pregnant, are safe, healthy and treated with dignity, especially during labor, is the responsibility of the state.