Pa. lawmakers renew bipartisan push on behalf of incarcerated women | Friday Morning Coffee

December 4, 2020 6:58 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers. 

With the start of a new legislative session just weeks away, a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers are getting the jump on an effort to restore dignity to the incarcerated — especially incarcerated women.

The lawmakers: Reps. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, Tina Davis, D-Bucks, and Mike Jones, R-Yorkpursued legislation during this year’s session that would have, among other things, prohibited restrictive housing for pregnant or postpartum women and detainees and provided free feminine hygiene and incontinence products to women inmates. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee without receiving a vote.

The three lawmakers said they  joined the advocacy groups Ardella’s House, and #cut50, as well as the American Conservative Union and York County District Attorney David Sunday for a virtual roundtable discussion where they talked about their plans to reintroduce the bill.

“The number of incarcerated women has skyrocketed in Pennsylvania over the last three decades, and too many of them are still being denied basic human rights,” Cephas said in a joint statement with her colleagues.  “A large number of them are mothers and primary caregivers forced to leave their children behind, and we have a responsibility to help not hinder their efforts to rehabilitate.”

(Prison Policy Initiative graphic)

While the state has made strides on criminal justice reform, an alarming number of women are still behind bars in state and county lockups. According to the Vera Institute for Justice, the number of women in state prisons increased more than 12-fold, rising from 215 in 1978 to 2,793 in 2017. The number of women in Pennsylvania’s jails leaped from 242 in 1970 to 4,754 in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a February report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  “found that prisons around the country have failed to manage that growth in a way that protects female prisoners and serves their needs.”

Despite reforms, commission researchers found that “incarcerated women continue to experience physical and psychological safety harms while incarcerated and insufficient satisfaction of their constitutional rights,” the Inquirer reported.

Cephas said her bill is meant to “build on the support already put in place by the state Department of Corrections in hopes of preventing further trauma and instead providing these women with the resources they need to serve their debt to society and get back to their loved ones safely.”

As it’s currently written, the bill also would:

  • “Update current restraint laws to better document restraint use and protect the mental and physical well-being of pregnant women and their children.
  • “Require all correctional institution employees who have contact with pregnant, incarcerated individuals to undergo comprehensive, professional training related to pregnancy, postpartum, and trauma-informed care.
  • “Create an environment that promotes and supports sustainability of healthy parent-child relationships by treating the mother with dignity and providing the children with some degree of normalcy during her incarceration,” the lawmakers said in their statement.

“Just because a woman has been incarcerated does not mean the state is not obligated to treat her with dignity,” Davis said in that joint statement. “But that is just what has happened, with inhumane and degrading treatment of women in the correctional system being the standard. Our proposal would stop this injustice by requiring the correctional system take into consideration the unique needs of women behind bars.”

Jones agreed, saying that “it’s critical we keep the spotlight on this important issue and push our legislature to act in the coming year.”

The lawmakers have not set a date for when they plan to formally reintroduce their legislation.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Pennsylvania charted a record 11,406 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to new state Health Department data. That brings the statewide total of cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 386,837, and the total number of fatalities to 10,944 deaths attributable to COVID-19, your humble newsletter author reports.

As a result of that rising caseload, the Pennsylvania Capitol complex will be closed to the public starting Monday, officials said.

In the midst of the pandemic, Uniontown’s East End United Community Center is striving for unity and outreach, our partners at the Uniontown Herald-Standard report, as our Helping the Helpers series continues this morning.

The Philadelphia School District has formed a virtual gender and sexuality alliance to help students connect and share their experiences and problems during the pandemic, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

Pittsburgh’s Latino community is reacting to Joe Biden’s election with optimism — and practicality, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has proposed new tax relief for businesses. And the head of the city’s Black Chamber says it’s ‘overdue,’ our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning: A 9/11’s worth of Americans died in a single day from COVID-19, and President Donald Trump abandoned the field. Opinion regular Ana White warns you not to buy the myth of pandemic productivity. Look after yourself instead. And if America were really a ‘Christian nation,’ we’d put caring for the poor, sick, needy, and marginalized front and center, the Rev. Sandra Strauss, of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, writes.

En la Estrella-Capital, los nuevos ‘equipos relámpago ’ de la prueba de COVID-19 ayudarán a Pensilvania ampliar su capacidad de prueba, dice Gov. Tom Wolf.

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Confronted with a tough budget, the Philadelphia school district may be facing layoffs, the Inquirer reports.
Western Pennsylvania hospitals are facing a staffing shortage because of the pandemic, the Tribune-Review reports.
Harrisburg-area hospitals are facing the same staffing shortage, PennLive reports.
St. Luke’s Hospital and Lehigh Valley Health Network say they have enough beds, even as state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says Pa. hospitals are running out of ICU beds, the Morning Call reports.
Luzerne County saw a record 362 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as the county’s death toll topped 300 fatalities, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Mike Stella (@mikestellaphotography)

Delaware has issued a stay at home advisory and imposed a mask mandate, WHYY-FM reports.
There’s no quick fix for the pandemic, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine warned Thursday, WITF-FM reports.
Erie County also has reported a record number of cases and deaths, GoErie reports.
Recently retired Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield, will run a lumber trade group, PoliticsPA reports. And outgoing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is headed for academia, he tweeted Thursday.
President-elect Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump has now grown to more than 7 million votesNYMag’s Intelligencer reports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Jeff Gammage at the Philadelphia InquirerChristopher Latta at the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee, and to syndicated columnist Christine Flowers, all of whom celebrate today. Congrats and enjoy the day, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
We’ll go out this week with a live performance from The Killers, taken from ‘Late Night with David Letterman.’ Here’s ‘Read my Mind.’ Stay for the gang vocal at the end. If you don’t get chills, check yourself for a pulse.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link. 
Goodbye canned crowd noise and chants. Fans will make their return to Premier League matches this weekend. The Guardian has what you need to know for the next 48 hours of action in the English top flight.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.