Legislative package would help incarcerated women, parents in Pa.

HARRISBURG, June 21 – State Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., and colleagues today unveiled a package of legislation that would help incarcerated women and parents in Pennsylvania.

"I'm glad that we're having vital, bipartisan discussions about criminal justice reform. I think it's crucial for those discussions to include women and girls of color," said Cephas, chairwoman of the Women and Girls of Color Subcommittee of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

"Women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population. Since 1985, the rate of incarcerated women has increased at nearly double the male rate. The ACLU reports that African-American women and women of color are significantly overrepresented in the prison population. African-American women are 30 percent of incarcerated women in the United States, but only 13 percent of the female population. In addition, Hispanic women are 16 percent of incarcerated women but only 11 percent of all women in the U.S."

Cephas plans to introduce a bill to create a Women and Girls Committee within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

"I believe this would aid the commission in its work as it specifically relates to research and programs that will have a direct impact on women and girls." 

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., chairman of the PLBC, said, “This package of legislation would help support incarcerated women in the commonwealth’s prison system. I would like to thank Representative Cephas, as well as Representatives Kim, Bullock, Fitzgerald and McClinton for leading the charge.”

The other bills in the package would:

  • Provide alternative postpartum housing for inmates; bill sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, who said, "In addition to having a transformational effect on the lives of new mothers, postpartum time between a mother and her baby is a known health and wellness multiplier for both. This change would also save taxpayer money, as the commonwealth would not have to arrange foster care for babies born under these circumstances.”
  • Require state prisons to provide free feminine hygiene items to all female inmates; bill sponsored by Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald, D-Phila., who said, "While the Department of Corrections recently changed its policy internally to provide these products, my legislation would ensure this change to Pennsylvania law so that future administrations could not easily repeal it."    
  • Offer a free monthly phone call to incarcerated parents; bill sponsored by Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., who said, “When a parent goes to prison, they never go alone, their children go with them. A phone call can help children cultivate relationships and strengthen their confidence; and inmates to transition back into the community. My legislation would ensure that incarcerated parents are able to speak to their children regularly, regardless of their financial means. We must address these vital issues, so we can move on to a fair and effective criminal justice system.”
  • Create a system to help inmates register for all available benefits before release; bill sponsored by Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware, who said, "After being released from prison, many women find themselves struggling with ailments, addiction or mental health concerns that put them at risk of relapsing. My proposed legislation would ensure that once they are released, they receive the health care and financial support needed to help them transition back into their communities. It can be a matter of life and death."