Indiana’s 2021 legislative session showed promising efforts to reform the criminal justice system and promote public safety, with lawmakers introducing several important bills. In particular, this session brought opportunities for the state to improve initiatives protecting women in prison, but these attempts ultimately failed when lawmakers hit the halfway marker of the 2021 session. As a result, Indiana missed a great opportunity for public safety-focused criminal justice reform.

It is unfortunate that bills like HB 1430 and HB 1349 failed since they would have allowed the state to create a better system for housing female, including pregnant, inmates. Both bills provided restrictions on restraints and shackles for pregnant inmates and required appropriate prenatal and postnatal care for inmates. HB 1430 specifically focused on pregnant inmates while HB 1349 aimed to provide basic necessities and care for female inmates.

Indiana could have followed the example of other conservative states, including South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, which have recently passed legislation to protect incarcerated women and develop appropriate correctional policies for the treatment of pregnant women. These bills are often called “dignity for incarcerated women bills” as they provide crucial steps towards safety and health while addressing the unique situations female inmates find themselves in. These basic human rights protections are also emphasized by the Bangkok Rules established by the United Nations.

Given that the number of incarcerated women is growing not only in Indiana but also worldwide, it is essential to establish protections and improve outcomes for this population. The sharp rise in women behind bars necessitates further changes for Indiana prisons to adapt to these demographic shifts. It is important to understand that female inmates are often dealing with inadequate care and do not have access to vital sanitary products. Furthermore, pregnant inmates experience dangerous shackling during pregnancy and childbirth which increases pregnancy risks and exacerbates pregnancy-related mental health problems. Such practice is completely unnecessary and outdated. Too often, prisons do not have codified protocols for the care of pregnant women and their existing policies do not include provisions for basic medical needs. There should be additional legislative changes across the country to ensure incarcerated women are treated with dignity and their medical needs and safety are addressed.

On the federal level, the First Step Act banned the shackling of pregnant inmates in federal prisons, though the practice continues to be a problem in state prisons across the country. The First Step Act also provided hygiene products at no cost to the inmate. In prisons, basic necessities are often subject to inflated prices while inmates in non-industry jobs are getting paid on average 63 cents a day. This is an enormous cost and health burden on the inmate. It takes several days of work to buy a 24-pack of sanitary pads for $2.63. Additionally, it forces inmates to prioritize which other products they have to go without.

The federal push for more care for the growing female inmate population is a good foundation for states like Indiana to follow, considering that female inmates are more often incarcerated in state prisons and jails rather than federal prisons. It is estimated that 65 percent of state female inmates have children under the age of 18. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, there are around 2,192 incarcerated women under the department’s custody. These women including pregnant and postpartum inmates could greatly benefit from the aforementioned bills if enacted.

These proposed legislative efforts reflect just some of the changes needed in the state’s criminal justice system and would have helped ensure the state’s prison system meets health care standards for women. It is disappointing that HB 1430 and HB 1349 did not move forward this legislative session as they would have been particularly helpful for female inmates, inmate mothers, and inmates needing immediate health care. Indiana should continue reforming the criminal justice system with similar legislation to align it with efforts made in other states and on the federal level. In the next legislative session, it will be critical for Indiana lawmakers to address issues affecting incarcerated women and make a substantive move towards protecting their rights and securing dignity for all.