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Making Jails Safer: TJP at the 86th Session!

Feb 18th, 2019 | Category: Lead Article

Rep. Celia Israel, Rep. James White, and Rep. Mary González

Rep. González has filed HB 1651 require jails to a) provide pregnant inmates with medical care by an Ob-Gyn   b) document the reason any time a woman in labor/childbirth is shackled and   c) transport a woman in labor to a hospital. The latter may seem unnecessary, but at times, medical staff and jailers will ignore a woman’s labor or assume she is faking it. That’s when births occur on the floor of a cell or in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, resulting in terrible trauma or injury and sometimes death.

Rep. Celia Israel has filed HB 1601 (HB stands for house bill) that would require counties to release pregnant women on a personal bond, not cash bail, so they can await their case at home—in a less stressful and usually healthier environment. Remember, just because she’s accused, doesn’t mean she should spend months in jail while she’s pregnant. Women with money never do, because they can always pay the bail. So let’s make that go away for women WITHOUT the money.

East Texas Rep. James White has filed HB 1553 that adds two new commissioners to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards—those are the people with decision-making power over regulation of local jails. HB 1553 stipulates that one new commissioner must be a doctor of psychiatric medicine and one must be an expert on veterans issues and programs. Since people living with mental illness and US veterans make up about half the people being held pretrial—not yet convicted— in Texas county jails, we think the time has come to have people on the Commission who can address the complex issues around jailing  them.

Rep. Israel has also filed a bill on data collection—in this case, requiring the Jail Commission to collect and report the age, gender and racial/ethnic background of each inmate. That sounds like a dry subject until you realize that lack of data is one of the reasons why there is such a dearth of research around the county jail—the ER of our criminal justice system. We think that with more research will come more funding and grants to improve conditions, programs and staffing in county jails!

Rep. White has filed HB 2701 that will help solve a problem that has led to bad outcomes for pregnant women, including miscarriages and the death of babies. HB 2701 requires the Jail Commission to establish a training program for county jailers that will ensure they recognize important aspects of pregnancy, including signs of labor and medical emergency—something very important when the jailer is often the one contact for the woman far from the dispensary or nurse on duty.

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