[2019 Session] Provide Dignity for Incarcerated Women

Policy Background

Too often, women’s trauma, mental health, and substance abuse needs are inadequately addressed under current policies and practices. As a result, they are failing to get the help they need to avoid involvement in the justice system, and Texas now incarcerates over 12,000 women in state corrections facilities – more than any other state in the country.1 Nearly 65 percent are incarcerated for years on a nonviolent offense (e.g., drug or property crime), and 81 percent are mothers.2 Nearly 200 women gave birth in Texas prisons in FY 2016, and as of December 2017, the most common offense of record among pregnant inmates was drug possession.3

Many incarcerated women have reported lack of access to quality feminine hygiene products, leading to hygiene problems and health risks. They have also reported being denied medical exams or services, or being deterred from seeking health care due to the $100 medical services fee. Others have reported rarely seeing their children while incarcerated, which negatively impacts their reentry to the community;4 furthermore, incarcerated parents can permanently lose custody of their children, sending them into the foster care system.

Proposed Solution

(1) Require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and county jails to provide additional and better-quality feminine hygiene projects, and expand access to medical care in TDCJ through less expensive co-pay fees. (2) Require TDCJ to conduct annual data collection and reporting on visitation-related policies and programs, which can help identify areas for improvement in family unity. (3) Require corrections staff to have trauma-informed training to equip them to refer incarcerated individuals to the proper healthcare professional(s) for treatment. (4) Require TDCJ to conduct a one-time screening of individuals upon intake to identify histories of significant trauma and similarly refer those individuals to treatment as needed. (5) Require the judge during the sentencing phase of a woman’s trial to inquire whether she is the primary caretaker of a minor child, and to take that into consideration when determining her punishment (e.g., a treatment program or probation vs. incarceration); this can minimize the negative effects of parental incarceration on children – including serious mental, physical, and emotional health issues, as well as generational imprisonment.5

Relevant Bill

Other Bills Impacting System-Involved Women or Those At Risk of System Involvement

Other Materials

1 Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), FY 2017 Statistical Report, 1.

2 TDCJ, data request, September 2017.

3 TDCJ, data request, 2017.

4 In 2014, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition sent surveys to 1,600 women incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Over 430 women completed the survey, which included questions about prior victimization, substance abuse, mental health issues, motherhood, and services and safety within TDCJ.

5 Oliver Robertson, The Impact of Parental Imprisonment on Children (Geneva: Quakers United Nations Office, Women in Prison and Children of Imprisoned Mothers Series, April 2007), 9.