2019 Legislation: State-Level Women's Justice Reforms

Texas incarcerates more women than any other state in the country. Nearly 65% of the 12,000 women in Texas prisons are there for a nonviolent offense, and a staggering 81% of are mothers, which comes with devastating impacts to families. It is important to address women’s trauma, mental health, and substance abuse needs, both to prevent justice system involvement and reduce recidivism. It is also critical to provide women with educational and vocational skills so they can remain stable, productive members of their families and communities. The bills below address women’s access to treatment and services while incarcerated, and more broadly address the needs of pregnant women and mothers, including through community-based assistance.

*** The bills with asterisks below were priority bills on TCJC’s legislative agenda.

*** HB 650 (Authors: White, Klick, Howard, Neave, Meza | Sponsor: Whitmire), Relating to inmates of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. By December 2019, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) must adopt rules and policies to implement the following provisions, intended to improve outcomes for incarcerated women:

  • A trauma history screening upon intake to determine whether a woman has experienced adverse childhood experiences or other significant trauma, and referral to the appropriate medical or mental health care professional for treatment.
  • Training for correctional officers and other employees who interact with pregnant women related to medical and mental health care for pregnant women, including the impact on a pregnant woman and her unborn child of restraints, solitary confinement, and invasive searches.
  • Pregnancy and parenting education for pregnant women, including on prenatal care and hygiene, the effects of prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol on the fetus, and medical and mental health issues applicable to children.
  • Nutritional support for pregnant women, including sufficient food and dietary supplements, such as pre-natal vitamins.
  • Limits on invasive body cavity searches of pregnant women, to be conducted only by a medical professional, or by a correctional officer if it is reasonably believed that the woman is concealing contraband (which then warrants a written report to the warden within 72 hours of the search explaining reasons for the search and identifying any contraband found).
  • A prohibition on shackling women (around their ankles, legs, or waists) while pregnant, unless needed to protect the woman, her unborn child or infant, or another person, or to prevent an escape attempt.
  • A prohibition on solitary confinement for pregnant women and those who gave birth within the previous 30 days, unless needed to protect the woman, her unborn child or infant, or another person, or to prevent an escape attempt.
  • A prohibition on beds for pregnant women that are higher than three feet above the floor.
  • 72-hour post-delivery care, during which time the infant can remain with the mother (unless it would pose a health or safety risk to either), and the woman can receive nutritional or hygiene products necessary to care for the infant, including diapers, which must be cost-free for indigent women.
  • Searches of rooms or areas in which women are not fully clothed to be conducted by a female correctional officer, if available, with a written report to the warden within 72 hours if a search was conducted by a man; TDCJ must also adopt a policy with staffing procedures to ensure the availability of female officers.
  • Up to 10 free feminine hygiene products per day on a woman’s request, which must comply with applicable federal standards for comfort, effectiveness, and safety.

This bill also requires TDCJ to study and, by December 2020, report on the effect that its current visitation policies have on the relationships between incarcerated individuals and their children, with a review of evidence-based visitation practices that enhance parental bonding and engagement, and age-appropriate visitation activities for children that enhance cognitive and motor skills. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019


*** HB 1374 (Authors: Hernandez, Neave, Guillen | Sponsor: Whitmire), Relating to grants for the development and operation of pretrial intervention programs for pregnant defendants and defendants who are the primary caretaker of a child. This bill permits the Community Justice Assistance Division (the probation arm) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to award a grant to a probation department to develop and operate a pretrial intervention program for defendants who are either pregnant at the time of placement into the program, or who are the primary caretaker of a child under 18 years of age. Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 6/14/2019


*** HB 3227 (Authors: Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Allen, White | Sponsor: Huffman), Relating to the availability of and access to certain programs and services for persons in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) must develop and implement policies that increase and promote an incarcerated woman’s access to programs offered to individuals in its custody – including educational, vocational, substance use treatment, rehabilitation, life skills training, and prerelease programs. TDCJ cannot reduce or limit any programs that are currently available to men in order to meet these requirements. Beginning in 2020, TDCJ must annually create and publish a report describing any internal policies that were created, modified, or eliminated during the preceding year to meet these requirements, and listing programs available to incarcerated women during that year. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019

Other, unrelated provisions of this bill are included in the section titled “Bills Related to Confinement in State or Local Corrections Facilities,” specifically in the sub-section on “State-Level Reforms.”


HB 405 (Authors: Minjarez, Howard, Hinojosa, Ortega, Cecil Bell | Sponsor: Kolkhorst), Relating to designating June as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Awareness Month. One goal of this designation is to raise awareness of the dangers of opioid and substance abuse during pregnancy and the availability of resources for mothers-to-be and new mothers with substance abuse disorders, including health care services and recovery support services. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019

Additional provisions of this bill are included in the section titled “Bills Related to Decarceration, Sentencing Reform & Community-Based Supports,” specifically in the sub-section on “Opioid-Related Reforms.”


SB 436 (Author: Nelson | Sponsors: Price, Rose, Minjarez, Sheffield, VanDeaver), Relating to statewide initiatives to improve maternal and newborn health for women with opioid use disorder. The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force must develop and implement initiatives to:

  • improve screening procedures to better identify and care for women with opioid use disorder;
  • ensure health care providers refer such women to appropriate treatment and verify they receive it;
  • optimize care provided to pregnant women with opioid use disorder, as well as to newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome by encouraging maternal engagement;
  • increase access to medication-assisted treatment during pregnancy and the postpartum period; and
  • reduce the number of opioid drugs prescribed before, during, and following delivery to prevent opioid use disorder.

DSHS can first conduct a limited pilot program (until March 2020) at hospitals that have expertise in caring for newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome or related conditions.

By December 2020, DSHS must create a report evaluating the success of any implemented initiatives and, if applicable, the pilot program. DSHS and the Task Force must separately promote and facilitate the use of maternal health informational materials by health care providers, including tools and procedures related to best practices in maternal health to improve obstetrical care for women with opioid use disorder. Signed by the Governor; effective immediately, 6/7/2019

This bill is also included in the section titled “Bills Related to Decarceration, Sentencing Reform & Community-Based Supports,” specifically in the sub-section on “Opioid-Related Reforms.”