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Illinois Lawmakers Consider Letting Women Out Of Jail For Childbirth

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether women who are pregnant and in jail should have to give birth behind bars.

Every year, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy says, her kids want to be told their "birth story.”

“What we’re trying to do ... is limit the number of children whose birth stories begin with, ‘First, I had to call for the guard,’” Cassidy says.

The Chicago Democrat is sponsoring legislation meant to keep pregnant women awaiting trial out of jail — as long as they’re not a threat to public safety.

She says it’s not only about giving women more dignity, but is also a better deal for taxpayers.

“If you’re not moved by the birth story, then the idea that if it’s not absolutely necessary for your county jail to absorb the cost of prenatal care and delivery for a defendant, that should be enough," she says.

It’s an initiative of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. A spokesman says they looked at the issue earlier this year, and between April 2016 and May 2017, there were 300 pregnant women in the jail, 17 of whom delivered children while in custody.

The legislation, House Bill 1464, passed the House 106-8 last month and is now pending before the Senate. A spokesman says with everything else on the calendar for the this week — the last week of veto session — the legislation might not come up for a vote until next year.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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