Women’s Health Caucus applauds efforts to improve outcomes for women returning to their lives following incarceration

HARRISBURG, Oct. 14 – Members of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus applauded Pennsylvania First Lady Frances Wolf for organizing a virtual discussion Wednesday to discuss the unique needs of women who are incarcerated and those leaving prison and returning to their families and communities.  

The virtual discussion among formerly incarcerated women, corrections professionals, reentry experts and advocates focused on the challenges that women face while incarcerated and during reentry, how the needs of these women are currently being met, and how the criminal justice system can improve to better serve them. 

Women’s Health Caucus co-chairs Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware/Montgomery, said the respectful treatment of women while in prison and when they are reentering society is a priority for the caucus and its legislative agenda. Over the span of three decades Pennsylvania has seen a significant increase in the number of incarcerated women.   

“We appreciate the efforts and commitment of First Lady Frances Wolf for understanding that there is a necessity to address the needs and concerns of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in our state,” Cephas said. “Conversations like this can and should lead to better public policy and the enactment of legislation to help prevent negative mental and physical health outcomes for all of Pennsylvania’s incarcerated women, their children and their families.” 

Cephas said the caucus has been working on issues several of the panelists discussed, including the unique challenges mothers face when they return to their families after months or years of having little to no contact with their children, along with the loss of maternal rights and obstacles to job placement, housing and returning to communities that lack the resources needed for successful reentry.   

"Women are uniquely impacted by incarceration,” Schwank said. “Family support is often the role of a wife or mother. When a man is incarcerated, he is likely to come home and find that support system still intact. When a woman is incarcerated, they face the harsh reality that families have fallen apart, and their support is gone. We need to help women by enacting policies that reduce recidivism and improve their lives. We can also work to improve programs that are most helpful to women while incarcerated so that they are ready to reenter society. Whether that’s job training, learning parenting skills or how to find affordable housing, we should be providing more opportunities for success and stability. These issues were discussed during the virtual meeting and need to continue to be discussed but most importantly, addressed.”  

Panelists included: 

  • Acting Secretary George Little, PA Department of Corrections. 
  • SCI Muncy Superintendent Wendy Nicholas, PA Department of Corrections. 
  • Moriah Hathaway, executive director of PA Women’s Commission. 
  • Tonie Willis, founder of Ardella’s House
  • Marsha Curry-Nixon, founder and executive director of Amiracle4Sure
  • Tinika Hogan, Incarcerated Women’s Working Group consultant for ACLU PA
  • Lisa Kessler-Peters, counselor and administrator at Sound Community Solutions
  • Lavet Henderson, women’s reentry advocate.
  • Moderator Frances Wolf, First Lady of Pennsylvania.  

"Our systems are not equipped to address the specific challenges women face upon reentry. We can and must better support the women who have served their time. They deserve to reenter society with dignity and resources,” Cappelletti said. “I thank the First Lady for taking an interest in this issue and bringing us together to talk about solutions that will make a difference for Pennsylvanians."

In addition to working on issues to improve reentry for formerly incarcerated women, the caucus is supporting bipartisan efforts on Dignity for Incarcerated Women, which acknowledge the unique needs of incarcerated women in Pennsylvania and their families, and take proactive steps to address female health care needs, including: 

  • Prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women and updating current restraint laws to better document restraint use.
  • Providing a variety of feminine hygiene and incontinence products to incarcerated women at no cost.
  • Prohibiting restrictive housing for pregnant or postpartum women and detainees.
  • Requiring all correctional institution employees who have contact with pregnant incarcerated women to undergo training related to pregnancy, postpartum and trauma-informed care. 

“Every woman in our prison and parole system deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Daley said. “If we lead with that, we’ll certainly see better outcomes for these women and their families.”  

More information about the bipartisan, bicameral Women’s Health Caucus in Pennsylvania can be found at this link: https://pahouse.com/WomensHealthCaucus