Kentucky Becomes First State to Pass “Dignity” Law For Incarcerated Women

Karly Kentucky, News, Press, State Accomplishments

SB133 is Expected to be Signed by Gov. Matt Bevin
Lexington, K.Y. – Today, the Kentucky legislature became the first state in the country to pass a “Dignity Bill,” a piece of legislation specifically tailored toward improving conditions for incarcerated women with a unanimous 88-0 vote in the House. Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican legislator from Louisville—the hometown of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell—sponsored Senate Bill 133, which bans the shackling of pregnant women, expands treatment for those struggling with addiction, and improves health and hygiene services for all incarcerated women.

“More than any other state, Kentucky is struggling with an opioid addiction, and the scourge of drugs has now touched every Kentucky family,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams. “When I learned how many pregnant women and mothers were entering our justice system, I knew we had to do everything we can to get them healthy, and make sure they can care for their babies. This isn’t just about women who make mistakes, it’s about the children that get left behind. Our Commonwealth, and our country, must do better. And I hope this bill starts a national conversation on how we would want our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters to be treated.”

The Justice Action Network, the largest bipartisan organization pushing for criminal justice reform legislation at the state and federal level, lauded the achievement as a groundbreaking moment for women, now the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population.

“This is a landmark moment for incarcerated women and mothers, who have been forgotten in the ‘me too’ movement, but who need and deserve a voice more than ever before,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of the Justice Action Network. “Kentucky has the second highest percentage of incarcerated women in the nation, and the highest percentage of children who have had an incarcerated parent. As a woman born and raised in Kentucky, I’m proud that my home state is the first to step up and set the example. Sen. Julie Raque Adams now has her place in history as the first legislator in America to pass a ‘Dignity Bill,’ and I feel certain that she has started a movement that will spread quickly across this country.”

Last summer, the Justice Action Network, in an event powered by Google and co-sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice, convened “Women Unshackled,” a national summit in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness around the drivers of female incarceration. The summit, which drew more than 600 activists, featured high-profile speakers such as Republican Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, conservative Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, and Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Since this convening, the country’s most powerful advocacy organizations on the right and the left have launched “Dignity” campaigns to address the epidemic of incarcerated women.

“Depriving incarcerated women of basic human dignity isn’t ‘tough on crime,’ it simply greases a cycle of failure that has led to generational incarceration,” said Van Jones, President and Co-Founder of #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to reduce incarceration. “What’s tough is the life of those babies whose mothers are addicted, who are in and out of prison, and who can’t provide for their children. Kentucky’s ‘Dignity Bill’ gives mothers hope, and it gives their babies a chance at a stable life. Surely that’s something the right and the left can get behind.”

For seven decades, the American Conservative Union has worked in support of policies that hold governments accountable for their actions, mandate fiscal responsibility, and advance human dignity. As part of its work to develop conservative solutions that address problems with the criminal justice system, ACU supported Senate Bill 133. Pat Nolan, the Director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, explained:

“As one of Kentucky’s most reliably conservative legislators (with a 90% lifetime ACU rating), it is no coincidence that Sen. Julie Raque Adams was the author of this important bill,” explained Pat Nolan. “The shackling of pregnant women is barbaric, pure and simple, and Senate Bill 133 ends it in Kentucky. But just as important, Sen. Raque Adams’ legislation will help strengthen families and ensure incarcerated women are treated with dignity. I cannot imagine legislation more conservative than that.”

Senate Bill 133, which passed the Kentucky Senate and House with overwhelming bipartisan support, is expected to be signed into law by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, a strong proponent of criminal justice reform.