The criminal justice system was built for men. The overwhelming majority of offenders are male, most victims are male, most police, prosecutors, and corrections officers, are male. But Kentucky’s female inmate population is growing, and as of 2017, we had the second highest female incarceration rate in the country.
One in four of the women who enter a Kentucky jail or prison is pregnant or has a child under a year old.
Kentucky has the opportunity to make a bold proclamation in 2018 that men and women are different and have different needs, especially while incarcerated.
Senate Bill 133 addresses those differences, and will ensure that female inmates get access to adequate feminine hygiene products, undergarments, and that pregnant women receive adequate nutrition during their pregnancy. It also bans the degrading and dehumanizing practice of shackling during childbirth and gives pregnant women who are drug addicted the opportunity to get into in-patient treatment pretrial.
Whatever the sins of the mother, we cannot call ourselves pro-life unless we do whatever we can to ensure the delivery of a healthy baby. Kentucky has more than twice the national rate of drug-dependent babies with 15.1 cases per 1,000 births compared to a U.S. rate of 7.3. Our county jails are ill-equipped to handle the intensive care needed to ensure that’s the case. And of course they are, their purpose is to house defendants pretrial and convicted misdemeanants, not provide the holistic, intensive supervision and regiment needed wean a pregnant mother off drugs.
Unfortunately, the situation for Kentucky women doesn’t get much better from here. According to the Violence Policy Center, Kentucky ranks eighth in the nation in male on female homicide. Nationally, when this occurs, 93 percent of women know their murderer, and 64% are killed by a current or former boyfriend of husband. SB 133 expands the places at which a victim can apply for an emergency protective order to include the regional rape crisis and domestic violence shelters, giving greater access to the victims most in need of our protection.
Pubic protection is the single most important function of state and local government, and SB 133 makes great strides to better protect Kentuckians. In addition to the expansion of where victims can apply to EPOs and IPOs, it also makes attempted murder of a police officer a violent offense, ensuring would-be murderers serve 85 percent of their sentence. It also severely restricts the use of home incarceration pretrial for murderers, and expands existing jail credit programs designed to reduce recidivism.
Finally the bill codifies the Kentucky Supreme Court’s order related to “administrative release” ensuring that jail space is used by our violent and repeat offender, and low-level, non-violent offenders don’t languish away in a jail cell simply because they can’t afford a bond before ever being convicted of anything.
Senate Bill 133 is a narrowly tailored, pro-family, pro-public safety bill designed to ensure the equitable treatment of female inmates, ensure the delivery of healthy babies, and make sure violent offenders are held accountable for their actions. I urge legislators to support this important bill.
Joshua Crawford leads the Pegasus Institute, a public policy think-tank in Kentucky.