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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session


Posted: January 31, 2023 04:35 PM
From: Senator Amanda M. Cappelletti and Sen. Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: Healthy Start Act
Individuals who are pregnant while incarcerated receive varying, and generally inadequate, levels of prenatal care, nutrition, and physical activity. In addition, prisons and jails often fail to provide any support in making childcare, custody, and/or adoption arrangements. According to the PA Department of Corrections, over a recent three-year period, 13 of the 58 county jails and a state correction institution reported using restraints on pregnant prisoners or detainees, including a waist belt restraint, oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray), restraint chairs, and a suicide gown - all in violation of DOC policy.

The emotional and physical challenges of being pregnant while incarcerated are followed by the trauma of childbirth and separation from their newborn. Because newborn babies are removed from their mothers almost immediately, babies and their mothers have minimal time to interact and bond. This is the norm even though most babies are born to mothers who are serving short prison sentences for nonviolent crimes.

We will soon be introducing the Healthy Start Act to provide the option for individuals who are pregnant or give birth during their sentences to be placed in community-based settings as an alternative to incarceration. This will be an appropriate alternative in certain circumstances, especially when the sentence is relatively short. During placement, the pregnant woman will receive appropriate treatment and supportive services, including prenatal care and parenting classes. Most importantly, the parent and child will remain together. In 2021, Minnesota became the first state in the U.S. to implement legislation that ends the practice of separating incarcerated women and other childbearing individuals from their newborns. 

There are multifaceted societal and fiscal benefits for keeping the mother and newborn together, including reduced recidivism, re-entry support for individuals being released into the community, improved parenting, enhanced child wellbeing, and community involvement, all of which lead to other long-term benefits. Instead of giving birth with two corrections officers and a looming separation, women and childbearing individuals will be able to welcome their baby alongside their partner or family, if they choose.


Introduced as SB573