ASSEMBLY LAW AND PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE
ASSEMBLY, No. 3979
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
DATED: JUNE 11, 2018
The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee reports favorably Assembly Bill No. 3979.
As reported by the committee, Assembly Bill No. 3979 establishes the “Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act” to focus on incarcerated parents in State and county correctional facilities who are primary caretakers of children and provide these parents with the protections they deserve.
The bill requires the Commissioner of Corrections and the chief executive officer of each county correctional facility in this State to adopt various policies concerning primary caretakers of children. An inmate who has a child is to be placed in a facility as close to that child as possible. The bill requires a pilot program for overnight visits with children to be established. Visitation is to be encouraged and promoted by: requiring visitation at least six days a week, including Saturday and Sunday, for at least eight hours a day; not restricting the number of children allowed to visit; allowing five adult visitors; and providing for contact visits. Solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant inmates is to be prohibited. Parenting classes and trauma informed care is to be provided to inmates and corrections offices are to be trained in how to interact with victims of trauma. Former inmates also are to be allowed to mentor incarcerated parents and assist them with reentry.
The bill further requires that an ombudsman be appointed to monitor inmate allegations of physical abuse including, but not limited to, sexual abuse and sexual assault; abuse in segregated housing; abusive strip searches; abuse occurring during prisoner transport; malnutrition; and failure to provide, free of charge, requested feminine hygiene products that meet industry standards, including, but not limited to, multiple sizes of tampons, sanitary pads and liners, as well as vaseline, aspirin, ibuprofen and any other items deemed appropriate by the commissioner. Telephone calls and video conferencing are to be made available at every facility free of charge. Corrections officers and other employees are to be prohibited from entering restrooms of inmates of the opposite sex except when necessary. Finally, all pregnant women and inmates who are primary caretaker parents are to be allowed to enroll in residential drug abuse programs.
A growing segment of the prison population typically is excluded from the criminal justice reform conversation and does not get the attention it deserves: primary caretaker parents behind bars. According to the Sentencing Project, in 2004, 52 percent of inmates in state prisons and 63 percent in federal prisons were parents of minor children. Most parents in prison are fathers, but the rate of female incarceration in America is growing at an alarming rate. While the number of fathers in prison increased 76 percent between 1991 and 2007, the number of mothers in prison increased by 122 percent during that period.
Presumably, the considerable growth in incarcerated parents represents a considerable growth in incarcerated primary caretaker parents. This is significant because these parents face unique challenges. Their incarceration is not their burden to alone share; it also greatly impacts their family. Many incarcerated primary caretaker parents also are faced with difficult and competing choices, like whether to us their limited funds to call home to talk with their children or to purchase hygiene products in the commissary.