Dignity Florida lobbies for incarcerated women

Dignity Florida Representatives holds a press conference at the Capitol. Photo by Titilayo Okuwa

A year ago, Shelby Nixon held her newly born granddaughter for the first time. Little did she know, it would also be the last time.

She would soon learn that her daughter Tammy Jackson gave birth to a baby girl, Miranda, alone in a solitary confinement unit of a Broward County Jail.

“It hurts. I only held her the first day she was born and ever since then I haven’t seen her,” Nixon said. “I just want my grandbaby home.”

Nixon has since joined forces with Dignity Florida to pass the Tammy Jackson Act (HB 1259/SB 852) and navigate the Department of Children and Families in search of the child. She says she is hopeful that she will see her granddaughter soon.

The Tammy Jackson Act aims to ensure that pregnant inmates receive appropriate medical attention during labor and that they are transported to medical facilities without delay.

Nixon and the Dignity Coalition held a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol before the bill’s first Senate committee meeting. Senator Jason Pizzo, Representative Shevrin Jones and the sponsor of the bill, Amy Mercado, joined them.

The bill successfully passed in the committee meeting and the sponsors are optimistic that it will become law this spring. Dignity Florida also advocated for and won the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill ensuring access to hygiene products for incarcerated women statewide.

Mercado says she could not imagine giving birth alone to any of her three children.

“Every time I talk about this, my C-section scars hurt. My Uterus hurts,” she said. “Tammy did it alone and until this day has not had a chance to have her child next to her.”

Valencia Gunder, campaign manager for Dignity Florida, says Tammy Jackson is just one of many women forced to give birth from solitary confinement conditions.

“After Tammy Jackson, we found out about so many other women who were being forced to have babies and miscarriages while in solitary confinement and we wanted to change that,” she said. “It’s ridiculous that in the state of Florida women are going through these things. It’s not OK.”

According to Gunder, the coalition led by formerly incarcerated women plans to continue its efforts by bailing out Black moms across the state during Mother’s Day weekend and working to pay off fines and fees of formerly incarcerated female felons.

Rep. Jones says they have unanimous support in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“We will not sleep until every woman or man who sits in a Florida correctional facility, we won’t sleep until everyone is treated with a sense of dignity,” Jones said.