A proposed North Carolina law would impose harsher sentences on inmates who expose themselves or emit a bodily fluid toward prison officers and other state employees.
Those convicted of that kind of "malicious conduct" would have their sentences added to the end of the punishment they face for other crimes.
Mental health advocates worry that the bill could disproportionately affect inmates who have mental illnesses.
State Rep. Ted Davis Jr. of Wilmington, a Republican and one of the bill's sponsors, said the proposed laws were previously recommended by a joint committee that studied abuse in prison. The group wants to protect prison guards, he said.
"A lot of this activity goes on in the prisons by the inmates and nothing is done. We felt like it was important to show our correctional officers that we appreciate what they're doing," Davis said.
The proposed punishments would bring unnecessarily harsh consequences for inmates who have mental illnesses, advocates say.
"Sexual preoccupation and disinhibition is a common symptom of psychosis," said Corye Dunn, director of public policy at Disability Rights NC. "And we know that prison tends to exacerbate mental illness."
Dunn and Dave Wickstrom, executive director of the Alliance of Disability Advocates, fear the bill could indefinitely imprison people with mental illnesses.
"Overcrowding, violence, lack of privacy, lack of meaningful activity not to mention the inadequate health services have serious negative effects on mental health," he said.
Davis said he's heard the concerns of mental health advocates and invited people to make amendments.
"People who want to make adjustments can certainly propose them," Davis said. "There's plenty of room in the process to allow for questions or concerns to be addressed."
The bill would add inmates who expose themselves to the list of those who can be charged with Class F felonies.
Depending on an inmate's criminal record, Class F felonies could carry a sentence of six months to several years. Class F felonies include involuntary manslaughter, assault inflicting serious bodily injury, participating in prostitution of a minor, and possessing a weapon of mass destruction.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Thursday, 15 minutes after the House session ends. The House is scheduled to convene at 11 a.m.