TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s second Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill, the Tammy Jackson Act, was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis following the birth of a baby girl inside a cell at the North Broward Bureau.
State Reps. Shevrin Jones, (D-West Park), and Amy Mercado, (D-Orlando), filed the legislation to make sure that pregnant women who go into labor while incarcerated in the state get “transported to an appropriate medical facility without delay, given proper medical care, and not placed in restrictive housing involuntarily,” a news release from Jones’ office stated.
The votes were unanimous in both legislative chambers, all aimed at keeping what happened to a mentally-ill pregnant inmate from ever happening again.
“My daughter could have died behind all of this,” said Shirley Nixon, Tammy Jackson’s mother. “(She) could have lost her life.”
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, (D-Miami), sponsored the bill in the Senate.
“Dignity Florida, a coalition of formerly incarcerated women, their families, and advocacy organizations across Florida, promoted the bill’s passage,” the news release stated.
Nearly a year later, the thought of what her daughter went through still brings tears to her eyes, but now there is also a sweetness.
“It’s in her name,” Nixon said of the law. “That’s going to be forever.”
The first Dignity for Incarcerated Women bill was passed with unanimous bipartisan support from the Florida Legislature during the 2019 legislative session.
That bill was also signed into law by the governor and ensures that women receive free menstrual and healthcare products while incarcerated.
“I am proud of the work we’ve done unanimously passing the 2019 and 2020 Dignity for Incarcerated Women bills, and seeing both signed into law,” Jones said in a statement. “At the end of the day, all people -- including those in our correctional facilities -- need to be treated with dignity and respect. Access to proper medical attention ought to be a human right, and this bill is the next step on that path.”
Jackson, who has been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia, gave birth last spring to a baby girl named Miranda at the North Broward Bureau.
“It was horrifying. It was horrifying,” Jackson told Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston last year. “When she fell, I had to bend down to pick her up and tell her, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen.’ She was still crying.”
Jackson was being held in jail on trespassing and drug charges at the time.
An incident report details how a Broward County Sheriff's Office deputy saw Jackson inside her isolation cell the morning of April 10 "screaming in pain."
The deputy reported later hearing a baby crying and seeing Jackson holding her child in her arms before she was rushed to the hospital.
"It isn't a joke when it comes to pregnancy. And if they don't want to abide by that, they should get fired because I don't believe no woman should really have to go through that," Jackson said.
Asked if she thinks anyone will be held accountable for what happened, Jackson said, "No, but they should. It was neglect ... emotional abuse."
Broward Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs investigators interviewed corrections officers, inmates, doctors and nurses and concluded its investigation in September.
“There (was) no evidence that any BSO employee mistreated or neglected Jackson, or failed to provide proper care,” the report reads. “All evidence indicated that the deputies regularly conducted physical checks on Inmate Jackson.”
The investigation did lead the jail’s medical provider to fire a doctor and a nurse connection to the incident, and new policies were also put into place.
“A lot of these jails will start to realize the legislature is paying attention to what’s happening inside of them,” said Jones.
Jackson arrived at the jail March 27, 2019, just one day after an obstetrician-gynecologist visited the jail. At the time, the OB-GYN was only scheduled to see pregnant inmates twice a month.
A nurse for Wellpath, the jail's medical provider, recalled checking on Jackson, and finding no indication that she was in labor the night before she gave birth.
That nurse would later call the general practitioner who oversaw the jail infirmaries.
That doctor told investigators he was not allowed to perform gynecological examinations.
The report revealed Wellpath first suspended, and later fired, that doctor following Jackson's incident.
A nurse was also terminated, but the nurse never provided a statement or spoke with IA investigators.
The report detailed how the doctor and nurse assessed Jackson, then left her cell to prepare documents to have her taken to the hospital on a “non-emergency” status.
Jackson gave birth alone while staff members were working on the transport paperwork.
According to the internal affairs report, Wellpath corporate representatives visited the North Broward Bureau and implemented changes.
Medical staff will now remain with inmates scheduled to be taken to the hospital until those inmates leave the jail facility and a mid-level provider will examine inmates who test positive for pregnancy. An OB-GYN now visits with inmates each week.
Valencia Gunter is an activist with the New Florida Majority and Dignity Florida, working to advance rights for incarcerated women and girls.
She was among the group of women who made the trip to Tallahassee earlier this year, lobbying lawmakers to act.
“Tammy Jackson is a human being,” said Gunter. “She’s a mother and she’s a women, regardless of her background, or the challenges she may have in her live, it is no one’s job to deny her proper health and safety.”
Nixon said she hopes this leads to more laws and protections for inmates with mental illness as well.
“It won’t happen to another inmate,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen to another inmate.”
The law goes into effect on July 1.