My name is Gale Muhammad and I’m fighting for families that are impacted by mass incarceration because I lost precious time with my husband while he was serving a prison sentence.
Primary caretakers are often an afterthought in the criminal justice system, yet families are deeply impacted by incarceration while their loved ones are away, which is why I’m supporting A-3979: The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caregiver Parents Act.
As a single mother, I reconnected with my childhood friend, Tariq Muhammad, who had been incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. When I first heard about Tariq’s situation I went to visit him in prison, the first of what would become hundreds of visits behind bars to him and others who were impacted by mass incarceration. I was blown away by how difficult our visits would become and how challenging his time would be.
Tariq and I got married inside of a prison and I often refer to myself as a “jailhouse bride” or a “jailhouse lawyer” but the truth is, I was fighting for my husband’s freedom and the rights he desperately deserved. I spent countless hours advocating for his needs and the needs of his brothers who were impacted by a system that penalizes individuals unfairly.
At that time our marriage became a partnership of civil rights advocates from both sides of the walls, during which he taught me all he knew, and connected me with those making positive changes on the inside and the outside. I knew our work couldn’t stop so I created my non-profit organization, Women Who Never Give Up. For the past 21 years, I have worked tirelessly to have the rights restored to those who are incarcerated and find pathways for a successful nu-entry into our communities.
Families that are impacted by mass incarceration deserve accessible visitation rights, meaningful resources and compassionate guards that can facilitate visits. Throughout my journey, I’ve also discovered that more than ever women and families impacted by mass incarceration need adequate resources to ensure that a successful nu-entry is in place.
In my years of working in the criminal justice reform field, I’ve learned that women have also suffered from health and safety indignities that are crucial to their wellbeings. It’s time for our laws in New Jersey to represent the people that live in our communities and work to provide families and incarcerated individuals with the opportunities they need and deserve.
A-3979: The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caregiver Parents Act could allow women and families the urgent life-sustaining resources that are needed to survive incarceration such as:
- Placing incarcerated parents as close as possible to their children’s place of residence at their request
- Allow for all pregnant women and incarcerated individuals who are primary caretakers to enroll in drug abuse and mental health programs
- Prohibit the use of any type of restraint on women known to be pregnant or in postpartum
- Provide parenting classes to all primary caretaker parents
- Provide trauma-informed care to incarcerated primary caretaker parents and trains correctional officers on how to interact with incarcerated individuals who are victims of trauma
- Allow for formerly incarcerated individuals to mentor currently incarcerated primary caretaker parents, to assist with nu-entry
- Requires standard feminine hygiene products such as tampons, sanitary pads, and petroleum jelly to be made available free of charge
- Restrict correctional officers and other employees from entering areas where incarcerated individuals of the opposite sex may be in the state of undress
- Transfers the function of the Office of Corrections Ombudsperson and all their power from the Department of Corrections to the Department of the Treasury.
With meaningful resources and accountability protocols, families like mine will not have to suffer from traumatic visitations and those who are incarcerated will have a system in place that addresses their most urgent needs. By placing an independent body like the Ombudsperson to oversee our great state of New Jersey and the prisons within it, I am confident that we can re-invest in a fair justice system and provide Dignity for Incarcerated Women and Families.