DENVER – Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that could provide alternatives to jail for pregnant defendants.
The bill directs courts to take a defendant’s pregnancy into account when deciding punishment and “to consider whether the defendant poses a substantial risk to the public and whether that substantial risk outweighs the risks of incarceration.”
It suggests deals could be worked out to keep pregnant defendants who pose no risk to the public out of jail.
Sponsors of the bill say the final decision is still up to prosecutors and a judge.
“It doesn’t say they have to. It doesn’t say if you’ve committed a violent crime that you aren’t going to pay a penalty for that. It just says if it’s possible for you to be in an alternative sentence, and you meet all the criteria, that they will consider that,” said State Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder.
Lauren Smith is with Elephant Circle and Soul 2 Soul Sisters, two Colorado organizations pushing state lawmakers to adopt the bill.
“We recognize that jails and prisons are unsafe places for pregnant people,” said Smith. “They're not equipped to address care that is needed.”
Smith said they have heard stories of pregnant inmates suffering in jail.
“We've had so many conversations over the past several years with people who've had a specific experience, experiences of giving birth alone in their cells, experience of not getting the care they need when it comes to substance use disorders and having a miscarriage as a result,” said Smith. “We know that this is something that's happening here in Colorado.”
During public testimony before the House judiciary committee, women shared their stories of being incarcerated while pregnant.
One Colorado woman shared her story about suffering a miscarriage at 16 weeks because jail officials didn’t provide her with medicine to treat her opioid addiction.
“The jail left me in withdrawal the entire day because the nurses were behind on bringing meds and I didn't get my dose until bedtime,” the woman said. “The next morning at breakfast I was in intense pain and spotting…In my experience jail is not the place to be at while you're pregnant because they are negligent in care towards helping incarcerated individuals, even in life-threatening situations.”
Opponents of the bill argue it will result in gangs and other criminals exploiting pregnant women, including their wives and girlfriends, by forcing them to commit or falsely admit to committing crimes in hopes of a lighter sentence.
“We don’t want to create a perverse incentive for people who are already committing criminal acts and who don’t respect women to try to monopolize and capitalize upon the considerations of this bill,” said State Rep. Gabe Evans, R-District 48.
That concern is why sponsors of the bill supported an amendment warning that people who coerce or extort a pregnant or postpartum person should be investigated and prosecuted.
The bill also requires jail staff to provide pregnancy tests to inmates within 24 hours after receiving a request.
“Requesting the test, taking the test, and results of the test are confidential medical information and must not be disclosed, except when the defendant receives medical care,” the bill reads.
State Representatives Jennifer Bacon and Judy Amabile and State Senators Julie Gonzales and Rhonda Fields are listed as the bill’s primary sponsors.
The bill passed the Colorado House of Representatives by a vote of 49 to 19.
It must now be considered by the Senate.