Senate OKs bill to steer more pregnant inmates into rehab
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Monday evening aimed at steering pregnant inmates into rehabilitation centers to treat their drug addiction.
Senators voted 33-4 to send the measure to the House. The bill is a response to Kentucky’s surging incarceration rate among women, many of whom are facing drug charges.
It’s also a recognition that one in four women entering a Kentucky jail or prison is pregnant or has a child under a year old, said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, the bill’s lead sponsor.
“Senate Bill 133 is a bill that prioritizes, above all else, the welfare of babies and the women who are carrying them,” the Louisville Republican said.
Kentucky’s fast-growing female inmate population is part of a larger problem in a state struggling to find enough prison beds. Kentucky’s top public safety official has said the state’s prisons will run out of space by mid-2019.
The bill would apply to pregnant women awaiting trial on drug charges.
To qualify, they could not be charged with violent or sexual offenses. They would have to reside at a rehabilitation center and complete substance abuse treatment. They would have to stay out of trouble, show up for their court appearances and have no contact with their alleged victims or potential witnesses who might testify at their trials.
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr called it a “humane” attempt to help expectant mothers battling addiction. Kerr, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the Republican-led chamber that “it’s not a contradiction” to be tough on crime and support the release provisions.
“This provision gives these babies a chance at having a momma who can emerge from the fog of drugs,” the Lexington Republican said.
Sen. Danny Carroll said the provisions were too broad and could apply to women facing serious charges of trafficking or manufacturing drugs that ravaged communities.
The Paducah Republican warned it could spur drug dealers to increasingly use pregnant women to transport drugs. And he was concerned it could create dangerous consequences for drug-dependent women and their unborn babies once out of jail.
“All it takes is one overdose and an innocent life would be taken,” Carroll said.
The bill also would require state corrections officials to ensure that jails housing state prisoners provide adequate nutrition for pregnant inmates. Those jails also would have to provide adequate hygiene products and undergarments for female prisoners.
It also would prevent the shackling of pregnant inmates during childbirth.
The legislation is Senate Bill 133.