Updated: Nov 12, 2021
The Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated Act (Dignity Act) was signed into law by Governor Cooper on September 10th, 2021, and will go into effect on December 1st, 2021.
The Dignity Act amends Chapter 148 (State Prison System) and Chapter 153A (Counties) to establish certain requirements related to the housing and treatment of female incarcerated persons in State correctional facilities and local confinement facilities. It requires prisons and jails to limit the use of restraints on a pregnant female during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and during the six-week postpartum recovery period*. It prohibits body cavity searches for pregnant females and females in the postpartum recovery period** and prohibits the placement of pregnant females and females in postpartum recovery in restrictive housing. It also ensures that pregnant females are provided prenatal, labor, and delivery care at no cost, along with sufficient food and dietary supplements. Furthermore, the Dignity Act allows for the newborn to remain with the female in the hospital following delivery and ensures that female incarcerated persons, who are the mother of a minor child under the age of 1, be placed within 250 miles of the child’s permanent address. Additionally, it authorizes for twice-per-week contact visitations for those held within low or minimum-security classifications***.
The Dignity Act also requires the Department of Public Safety to develop training that is related to the physical and mental health of pregnant female incarcerated persons and fetuses, and provide it to all State prison employees who have significant regular contact with pregnant female incarcerated persons. Additionally, it requires the Department of Public Safety to develop and provide educational programming to pregnant female incarcerated persons held in State prisons related to prenatal care, pregnancy-specific hygiene, parenting skills, the impact of drugs and alcohol on the fetus, and the general health of children.
The Dignity Act is not limited to pregnant female incarcerated persons and females in postpartum recovery. It also limits inspections by male correctional facility employees when a female inmate is in a state of undress to the greatest extent practicable and requires written justification if a male correctional facility employee deems it appropriate to conduct an inspection or search. The Dignity Act also ensures that sufficient menstrual products are available at the correctional facility at no cost to the female incarcerated persons.
*An incarcerated person in the postpartum recovery period may only be restrained if a correctional facility employee makes an individualized determination that an important circumstance exists, and then only wrist handcuffs held in front of a person’s body may be used, and only when she is ambulatory.
**Unless the correctional facility employee has probable cause to believe contraband is being concealed that presents an immediate threat of harm to the female, the fetus, and/or another person.
***Unless a correctional facility employee has a reasonable belief that the child may be harmed during visitation.
Researched by Crystal Poole, NC-CURE Intern