The Texas Senate recently passed a bill which would improve conditions for women in prison, if it becomes law. The bipartisan House Bill 650, authored by Republican state Rep. James White, mandates that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) must provide women in state prisons with more and higher-quality menstrual products, allow inmates to remain with their newborns 72 hours after giving birth, and bans the use of restraints on pregnant women, according to HuffPost.
Texas already prohibits the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and immediately after giving birth, though guards can still restrain inmates at other times. Therefore, if the bill is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in the state’s prisons would be banned entirely, joining states such as California, New York, and Illinois.
As of 2016, the number of women incarcerated in Texas prisons is about 12,508. Roughly 64% of these women are there for nonviolent offenses — mostly drug possession — and are subject to a multitude of harsh treatments.
In a survey conducted by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in 2018, 34% percent of the women surveyed by the coalition reported that they requested a medical exam or service from TDCJ that was denied, even if they were pregnant — as was the case with Shaye Bear.
Bear gave birth to a premature baby in a Texas county jail cell in May 2018 and told local ABC affiliate WFAA-TV that guards refused to help her during labor. Instead, she was forced to deliver the premature baby alone in her cell and to suck the fluid out of the baby’s mouth and nose on her own.
More than half of the 400 women surveyed also said they weren’t given adequate tampons and pads, both quantity and quality wise. According to the survey, in TDCJ, female inmates are currently issued 30 sanitary pads and six tampons per month.
Former inmate Evelyn Fulbright told the Texas Tribune that “she’d often wear three pads at a time to keep herself clean,” and that still wasn’t enough. Fullbright also said that she bled through her white prison uniform multiple times and hand washed it in the sink, though that was apparently against the rules.
While the bill would possibly prevent situations like these from happening again in Texas, it doesn’t address all of the areas that negatively affect incarcerated women, which the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is advocating for. These include removing barriers to family unity by making phone calls more affordable for inmates and providing welcoming visitation areas, and investing in programs tailored to women’s specific needs that would aid in their transition out of prison.