TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – New legislation is coursing its way through the Florida State House. It's modeled after a Maryland bill that went into effect this month, essentially banning placing pregnant inmates in isolation.
"Really, (it) was a just a reckless disregard for human dignity," said Florida state Sen. Jason Pizzo, who sponsored the legislation after Tammy Jackson, a mentally-ill woman, gave birth alone, while in isolation at the North Broward Bureau in April.
Jackson spoke with the Leave it to Layron team after she was released from the hospital, and following a mental health evaluation in May. She said her baby was delivered, and fell onto the cell floor. "I had to bend down to pick her up and tell her, 'I'm sorry,'" Jackson recalled. "I didn't mean for that to happen. She was still crying."
"The wrong that happened here was a woman was left in isolation for several hours and made to give birth on her own, without medical attention," said Pizzo. "The wrong that needs to be righted is just that."
Florida is among the 18 states with laws on the books prohibiting, or restricting the shackling of pregnant women.
Pizzo is hoping new rules will be adopted that would go even further, amending some statutes, while adding others to address the conduct of correctional officers and medical treatment.
Isolation would only be allowed in "extraordinary circumstances." Officers and medical staff would be required to document and report the reason for placing a pregnant inmate into isolation and that determination would have to be reviewed daily.
The use of physical restraints would not be allowed on pregnant inmates, or during post-partum recovery, except in documented, extreme circumstances, which would have to be reported.
"If you believe that all life is precious, solitary confinement is torture," said Tray Johns, a criminal justice organizer with The New Florida Majority and Dignity Florida.
"We haven't had scores of dangerous pregnant women taking over jails," Johns said. Her organization called for changes to the laws after Jackson's incident was made public.
"We wanted to come at it from all sides," Johns said. "In many states, a pregnant woman is shackled during labor, she's shackled during delivery and childbirth, and after she gives birth, her child is usually taken away from her, and she's transported back to the jail—sometimes within hours. If she's lucky, a day."
The proposed changes would also give incarcerated mothers more time with their babies after delivery, as long as there's no immediate health or safety risk.
"It's just to ensure that there is a modicum of decorum and practice and method," Pizzo said. "I don't believe that women and men serving time is all about punishment. We have to treat them humanely."
A spokesperson with BSO couldn't comment on the proposed legislation, but said BSO's duty is to uphold and enforce all laws.
"At this point in the legislative process, the Department would be unable to provide comment," said a Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Legislature."