The Austin Chronicle

House Bills 1140 & 1141

By Amy Kamp, February 13, 2015, News

Filed: Feb. 4, 2015

Author: Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin

Last week Rep. Israel filed two bills that would require more reporting on the conditions pregnant inmates face in Texas jails. The standard of care for pregnant inmates has been on the Lege's agenda before: In 2009, HB 3653 required Texas jails to restrict the practice of shackling pregnant inmates during labor or immediately afterward. A companion bill passed in the same session, HB 3654, requires Texas jails to "ensure that the jail's health services plan addresses medical and mental health care, including nutritional requirements, and any special housing or work assignment needs" for pregnant inmates.

Reproductive rights activists Mama Sana, with the help of other groups, have been calling attention to claims these standards aren't always being enforced. Their efforts led the freshman rep to file these bills. HB 1140 requires jails to report on the "implementation ... of policies and procedures to provide adequate care to pregnant prisoners," and also requires the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to "compile, analyze, and summarize the reports" by Dec. 1, 2016. HB 1141 would mandate a yearly, detailed report from jails on every instance restraints were used on pregnant or recently delivered inmates.

While more reporting won't be a panacea for ensuring a standard of care, advocates believe it's a step in the right direction. "The standard [set out in HB 3654] is extremely vague," says Texas Jail Project Executive Director Diana Claitor, who worked to help pass that bill and has been working to make sure the standards are enforced. "Nobody has asked the jails how they're implementing the law." She believes a study will shed light on how the standards are being put into practice, and may help jails that don't currently have the resources to adequately care for pregnant women find funding. In a statement to the Chronicle, Rep. Israel writes, "HB 1140 and HB 1141 will guarantee the state has accurate data and information to assess the standards of pregnant inmate care in county jails. This data will be an invaluable tool for the Legislature as we evaluate how to best ensure quality and equitable care."

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