According to the most recent statistics, there are over 2,700 women incarcerated in Pennsylvania. A new law alters how they are regarded.
It’s a law that took seven years to pass, and it affects not only women in prison but also their families on the outside.
Tonie Willis, the creator of Ardella’s House in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion area, is passionate about the cause.
“We are a safe house for women coming home from prison,” Willis said of the residence named after her mother.
Willis understands the difficulties that women endure when they return home.
“I did a little time,” she explained about her own experience. “I was in my early 20s, I don’t like really talking about it much.”
This could be due to the anguish that incarceration can produce, especially for women.
State Representative Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia County) recognized the need for action.
“A lot of the focus was on the men who were in our criminal justice system,” Cephas said in a statement.
This is changing thanks to a new state law known as the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act. Cephas and Republican Representative Mike Jones of York County co-sponsored the bill, which is bipartisan in nature. It alters how women are treated in prison.
“When we were having the conversation about women who are incarcerated, the issue of shackling always came up,” Cephas said.
The new rule prohibits shackling of women, especially pregnant women.
“To not shackle women during labor, where is she going?” Willis questioned.
“It also requires the correctional center to allow for three days of bonding with an infant,” Cephas went on to say.
The Dignity Act, commonly known as House Bill 900, expands access to family visitation.
“Ensuring our families are really able to stay connected to their young ones,” Cephas stated.
“A high percentage of women who are incarcerated are mothers,” Willis added.
The new rule prohibits pregnant women from being held in solitary confinement and requires trauma-informed care. The rule also requires jails to give free feminine hygiene products and to educate pregnant women in prison about topics like prenatal vitamins.
“Right now, it’s supported by a grant from the Tuttleman Foundation.” “The next iteration of Dignity for Incarcerated Women will make that a requirement in our system,” Cephas stated.
Willis advocated for the new law that restores respect to women in jail so that they can make successful transitions back home.
“This bill being passed is the best Christmas present I could ask for,” she told the crowd.