By Tamara Barak
Bay City News
Juvenile justice advocates are lauding San Francisco for its pioneering Bill of Rights for incarcerated young mothers.
The 10-point declaration implemented by the Newsom administration and believed to be the first of its kind, will guide policy in the city’s juvenile halls, said Marlene Sanchez, executive director of The Center for Young Women’s Development.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit organization has been working for about two years with the city’s juvenile probation department on the project. The declaration went into effect in January, and Sanchez says the next step is training those who work in the juvenile justice system.
With two-thirds of the girls in the juvenile justice system either pregnant or parenting, the document will have far-reaching consequences, Sanchez said.
The Bill of Rights ensures that the young mothers are treated with dignity, said Bill Siffermann, the city’s chief juvenile probation officer.
“Each of these tenets reflects a respect for motherhood,” Siffermann said.
According to the Young Mothers’ Bill of Rights, the girls have the right to have somebody with them while they’re giving birth and they are allowed to give birth without shackles – something that was also ensured by state law last year. They have the right to recover in the hospital after having a baby.
The young women have the right to see, touch and speak to their children, be informed of their children’s well-being and safety, and have support and advocacy while incarcerated.
The Bill of Rights also affirms the right to prenatal and parenting information.
Siffermann, himself a father, said adopting the document became “a no-brainer” when he thought of his own family in the position of many girls in juvenile hall.
“The thought of my wife being shackled to a bed was shocking to me,” he said.
Sophia Sanchez, coordinator of the Young Mothers Organizing Project Program for the Center for Young Women’s Development, said the tenets simply spell out for juveniles the protections that are already clarified for adult inmates.
“The rights we’re demanding as moms are basic human rights,” she said.