Thank you, Ronlyn, for keeping people up to date!
And thank you, everyone, for your vibes, prayers and good wishes!
Late last night I learned that the shackling bill was going to face a big hurdle today. The Department of Corrections (DOC), which runs the prisons, has said they're not taking a position on the bill. And that's true — sort of...
As one of the senators said, “You say you're not against the bill, but we can look at your comments and see how much you think this is going to cost and guess the truth.”
Instead of coming out and saying they’re against the bill, the deputy director came before the Senate Judiciary Committee today to share her concerns about the bill. Also, the DOC gave an analysis to the state of how much it was going to cost them if this bill passes, and the number they gave was HIGH. Those two things might well have been a big problem, and I spent last night and this morning doing last-minute research about the fiscal notes that other states included with their bills so that I would have a way of countering what they might say.
I was pretty stressed out about it — OMG! — and during her testimony, I kept wondering if this was going to be the end of the bill.
After she spoke, the senator sponsoring the bill asked me to testify again. And although I was only supposed to offer new information, I started by recapping what they'd heard last week. I didn’t want DOC's testimony to outweigh the rest of it.
Okay, so that’s cheating. Sue me.
Then I talked about how in Pennsylvania, they found they needed to have the same number of guards whether the inmate was shackled or not. I told about an incident (which I learned about this morning from the Penn. senator's legislative aide) where a guard left a shackled inmate to go do whatever (drink, bathroom, shag a nurse... whatever). And while he was gone the inmate became critical. When he returned to her hospital room, the doctor was on the bed trying to cut the shackles off with a hacksaw.
I told them that whether the bill passes or not, DOC would have to look at increasing its staff because without having more than one guard, we are leaving inmates in danger if we walk off when they're shackled.
I tried to throw in every encouraging word I could. I told them that the Senate in Pennsylvania had passed its bill unanimously and that I was sure we could do the same. I had no sense of what they thought of what I was saying. Everyone always looks painfully serious in these hearings.
I went and sat down. Beside me was an inmate whose story I reported on a long time ago. (Unlawful Contact is dedicated to her stillborn baby — the result of neglect from the guards). She reached over without saying a thing and took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
And then they voted and passed it unanimously — and when I looked beside me, she had tears in her eyes. Of course, since I'm a crybaby, I got tears in my eyes, too. *sniff*
Now the bill heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which may be the biggest hurdle, because they have to find money for it in a state with no money. I told them they should tell DOC to hold a bake sale. (Aren’t I helpful?)
So keep your fingers crossed, and keep the prayers coming.
We’re in the midst of our biggest edition of the year right now, so I’ve got work to last me through midnight and beyond, probably. But I wanted to hop in and update everyone because I knew you were pulling for the bill today.
Oh, yes — students from a journalism class I spoke to two weeks ago were there. And there was a photographer as well who shot photos of me (but no one else — weird), so perhaps there's going to be media coverage of this outside my paper. For the sake of the bill, I hope so.