April 11, 2019

Governor Kemp:

On behalf of
the R Street Institute, we write to you in strong support of the Dignity Act
(HB 345) introduced by Representative Sharon Cooper and passed by an
overwhelming majority in the Georgia State Legislature (52-1 in the Senate and
unanimously, 152-0, in the House). This landmark legislation begins to restore
dignity to—and acknowledge the humanity of—women behind bars in Georgia. 

At the R
Street Institute, our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to
promote free markets and limited, effective government. When pregnant and
postpartum women behind bars are not treated with dignity and their health is
put at risk, government oversteps its bounds and violates these principles.
Thus, HB 345 is of special importance to us.

Governor Deal’s tenure, Georgia emerged as a leader in smart criminal justice
reform practices. Consequently, Georgia’s taxpayers have enjoyed better public
safety outcomes at a reduced cost while keeping families together. The model set
by the state of Georgia has been so effective that Congressional leaders in
Washington, D.C. modeled parts of last year’s landmark criminal justice
legislation, the First Step Act, on Georgia’s reforms. We strongly encourage
you to continue this trend with the enactment of smart and effective criminal
justice reforms, and to further Georgia’s leadership in this arena by focusing
on the plight of incarcerated women, the fastest-growing prison population in
the nation. 

Over the
past thirty years, the population of women behind bars in the United States has
skyrocketed—quadrupling since 1980. 
Women are now the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated
population, increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985. We
incarcerate more than 111,500 women in state and federal prison facilities, a
total that exceeds one-third of the global female prison population.
Furthermore, 75-85 percent of those women are mothers, and more than 2,000
women give birth behind bars every year.

often has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond its impact on
individuals. This is especially true for women, who are instrumental in
preserving the integrity of families and the vitality of communities. The
stories shared by formerly incarcerated women who have endured subhuman
treatment in our prisons underscore the need for policies that deliver basic
human rights in Georgia. There has never been a more important time for us to
build understanding, generate empathy and enact policies that protect all women
in Georgia. 

The unique
gift of a woman to be a mother also necessitates appropriate conditions to
safely give birth to a healthy newborn. When shackled, women are not able to
reposition themselves to alleviate the pain associated with contractions and
childbirth. Wrist and ankle restraints cause bruising and wounds that compound
the trauma of childbirth. The positioning of wrist and ankle restraints force a
delivering woman into an unnatural position that harms her fetus, impeding the
natural flow of oxygen as the newborn enters the world. If an emergency
procedure, such as a cesarean section, becomes necessary, a delay of as little
as the five minutes it takes to reposition shackles can cause permanent brain
damage to the fetus. Finally, restraints may prevent a mother from effectively
healing from childbirth, breastfeeding and bonding with her newborn. 

professional groups—who are experienced in the delivery of newborns—have spoken
out against the practice of shackling, including: the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the American Medical Association; the American
Public Health Association; the American College of Nurse-Midwives; and the
Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. Individual
medical practitioners have stated that the purported purpose of the shackles—flight
risk or harm by women in prison—is a relatively minor concern, especially for
those who have committed nonviolent, low-level offenses.

For the reasons stated above, the R
Street Institute strongly supports
HB 345 and urges you to sign it into law.


Arthur Rizer

Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties

R Street Institute

[email protected]

Marc Hyden

State Government Affairs

R Street

[email protected]

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