York Correctional Institution, Niantic DOC
York Correctional Institution. DOC

The state House of Representatives unanimously gave final approval Thursday night to a bill giving an array of protections to incarcerated women, particularly those who are pregnant.

The House also gave final approval, voting 147 to 1, to a bill to reduce instances when victims of domestic violence are arrested alongside their attackers.

The Senate unanimously approved both measures on Tuesday.

“As we continue to reform criminal justice within our state, it’s important that we recognize that we have a responsibility to those we incarcerate,” said Rep. Joshua Hall, D-Hartford. “All people should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The measure regarding incarcerated women requires that the state employ at least one health care provider with specialized training related to pregnancy and childbirth at the York Correctional Institution in East Lyme, the state prison for women.

In addition it mandates a number of policies regarding the treatment of pregnant inmates. The bill would require that:

  • A health care provider assess each inmate for pregnancy upon admission to the prison.
  • Pregnant inmates receive counseling, medical care, a specialized diet, appropriate clothing and sanitary materials, and access to treatment for postpartum depression.
  • Inmates with high-risk pregnancies be transferred to a medical infirmary or hospital.
  • Counseling be provided to pregnant inmates before their release.
  • The use of restraints for pregnant inmates be limited, including during transportation, labor and delivery, and during the postpartum period. It also requires written documentation when certain restraints are used.

“What we want to do is make sure that we are protecting the unborn life,” said Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck. “For whatever circumstances that that mother is there, that child is not to be harmed or blamed or put at risk as a result of.”

The measure mandates other changes regarding the treatment of all incarcerated women. The bill would require:

  • Visitation policies for all inmates with children under age 18.
  • That all women receive feminine hygiene products free of cost, upon request.
  • That the Department of Correction develop and implement a policy regarding the safety of transgender inmates by Oct. 1, 2018.
  • That the department, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division use a gender-responsive approach in their risk assessment analyses of inmates.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed the legislation and said Thursday that he looked forward to signing it into law.

 “The legislation approved in the House today is about taking a compassionate yet practical approach to improving the way our institutions treat incarcerated women,” Malloy said. “Of the many things that I have accomplished in public life, this is among those of which I am most proud.”

Domestic violence

The domestic violence measure would implement a broad strategy to reverse a longstanding philosophy of “dual arrests” effectively imposed on police departments by existing law, said Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield, Senate Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, said on Tuesday.

Connecticut has one of the highest dual-arrest rates in the nation.

In effect, police officers currently are encouraged in many instances to arrest both parties in a domestic violence incident. The bill, which was developed with bipartisan support, would direct officers to try to establish if there was a “dominant aggressor” in an incident, and if so, arrest only that person.

“As a domestic violence survivor, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that this bill actually made it to the floor … it’s time, it’s overdue,” said Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. “Nobody should be arrested for being a victim. Nobody should be arrested for self defense.”

Several argued that too often victims of violence, as well as their children, are further traumatized by being arrested.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, was the only House member to vote against the bill.

“I can tell you from the divorces that I do, which are many, sometimes domestic violence is arranged, involved, and sometimes it’s real. Many times it is real,” he said. “But this dominant aggressor thing, I just can’t get behind because I’m out there in the field and I know what our courts are dealing with, what our police are dealing with, and I don’t think this helps the situation. It certainly doesn’t address the dual-arrest situation because it could still happen. I think at a certain level we’re taking away the discretion from our police to do what they’re presently doing.”

Mackenzie is a former health reporter at CT Mirror. Prior to her time at CT Mirror, she covered health care, social services and immigration for the News-Times in Danbury and has more than a decade of reporting experience. She traveled to Uganda for the News-Times to report an award-winning five-part series about a Connecticut doctor's experience in Africa. A native of upstate New York, she started her journalism career at The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass., and worked at Newsday on Long Island for three years. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she wrote her master's thesis about illegal detentions in Haiti's women's prison.

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