Last Friday, the Tammy Jackson Act (HB 1259, titled Restrictive Housing for Incarcerated Pregnant Women) passed its last legislative hurdle before moving on to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk. The State Senate and House both voted to enact the bill introduced in the House by Representatives Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) and Amy Mercado (D-Orlando) and co-introduced in the Senate by Senator Jason Pizzo (D-Miami).
The Tammy Jackson Act is intended to ensure 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. With newly amended language, the bill needed one final House vote and in the final moments of the 2020 Legislative session, the bill passed unanimously through both chambers.
Organizations across Florida including New Florida Majority, American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Organize Florida took to Twitter to tweet the legislators demanding that they schedule the Tammy Jackson Act to be heard on the House floor for one final vote and “stand to pass HB 1259 before it’s too late.” Others took a more direct approach by emailing and calling the legislators’ offices to express their concerns.
Among the group of advocates was Waynesha Pye, a Dignity Florida member forced to give birth shackled, chained and tied to a bed while incarcerated. “Just hearing about the passage of the Tammy Jackson Act will restore hope and faith to so many incarcerated women. Knowing that we still have to fight so viciously for an issue that ensures women are treated with basic humanity means we have more work to do,” said Pye. “We are determined, diligent and deliberate in our fight. Hopefully, this showed legislators that we are unstoppable and powerful.”
The Dignity Coalition, a grassroots effort led by formerly incarcerated women and supported by several community organizations in Florida, works to advance the rights of incarcerated women and girls in Florida. Just last year, the coalition won the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill to ensure that incarcerated women have access to hygiene products. Passing the Tammy Jackson Act was a team effort, led in large part by Valencia Gunder, a community activist and formerly incarcerated woman herself who also serves as Campaign Manager for Dignity Florida.
“We applied pressure, pushed state legislators to schedule the Tammy Jackson Act and it passed. Today’s action showed that treating incarcerated pregnant women and girls with dignity and respect is not an issue of partisanship, but of basic humanity and it will not be compromised,” said Gunder. “There are three things a woman should never sacrifice: her family, her heart and her dignity. We are happy to know that our legislators agree. 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.”
No pregnant woman should ever be put in solitary confinement; it 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 people, including those who are pregnant, are safe, healthy and treated with dignity, especially during labor, is the responsibility of the state.