JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A bill moving in the Florida House sponsored by a local state representative would allow pregnant women sentence to prison the possibility of delaying their sentence until after their baby is born.
Photos released by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office captured the scene when Erica Thompson went into labor in the local jail back in 2021.
Her baby, Ava, was born premature and passed away in the hospital.
“They didn’t give her care, the care and stuff she needed while she was in jail,” said State Representative Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville).
After learning of the tragedy, Nixon filed legislation bearing Ava’s name.
“‘Ava’s Law’ would require jails to provide female inmates pregnancy tests on request if they’ve been detained for more than 72 hours, but more significantly it would allow pregnant women sentenced to prison to petition a judge to delay their imprisonment during their pregnancy and up to 12 weeks after they’ve given birth.
“So, after they have the baby, they’ll have 12 weeks to bond with their child and all of that and so, it’s to help with maternal outcomes and infant outcomes as well,” said Nixon.
The judge would be required to consider the severity of the offence committed by the woman, prior criminal history, potential risks to the community and other factors before allowing the sentence to be deferred.
If granted, the woman would be on probation or community control during the deferment and could be required to wear an ankle monitor.
Violating the terms of release could result in the revocation or modification of the arrangement.
“I’ve now been doing this for about 24 years, and I have watched the courts sentence pregnant women to prison. I’ve watched that because there was no other mechanism, there was no safety valve,” Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said.
Carson said he supports the idea, arguing with guard rails in place, it will likely provide safe opportunities to prevent more children from being born behind bars.
“We want mothers and fathers to bond with their children as soon as they’re born. That’s what makes a strong family and so when you deny that by operation of the criminal justice system, I think that’s a flaw,” Carson said.
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The bill has just one more stop in the House before it’ll be ready for a floor vote.
It hasn’t received any hearings in the Senate yet.
Three-and-a half weeks remain to change that before lawmakers conclude their 60-day session.