shackling birthing inmates in federal prisons

October 27, 2008 § Leave a comment

The ACLU welcomes the Bureau of Prisons’ recent policy change barring the shackling of pregnant inmates in federal prisons in all but the most extreme circumstances.

This new policy represents a sea change in the United States, where the shackling of pregnant women during transport, labor, and even delivery has long been routine in jails and prisons. Currently, only California, Illinois, and Vermont have enacted state laws restricting the practice of shackling pregnant women. By contrast, international human rights bodies have repeatedly expressed concern about policies that permit shackling of pregnant women.

Such reform is long overdue: As the stories from Amnesty International’s 1999 report, “Not Part of My Sentence”: Violations of the Human Rights of Women in Custody” make clear, shackling is not only dangerous and inhumane, but also poses serious and unnecessary risks to the wellbeing of the mother as well as her child. Warnice Robinson, who was imprisoned for shoplifting, explains,

“Because I was shackled to the bed, they couldn’t remove the lower part of the bed for the delivery, and they couldn’t put my feet in the stirrups. My feet were still shackled together, and I couldn’t get my legs apart. The doctor called for the officer, but the officer had gone down the hall. No one else could unlock the shackles, and my baby was coming but I couldn’t open my legs.”

Maria Jones, who was incarcerated for violating drug laws, tells the story of having labor induced two weeks prior to her due date, but being “kept in shackles, leaving 18 inches between her ankles, and told to pace the hallway for several hours. ‘It was so humiliating. My ankles were raw,’ she said. ‘I had shackles on up until the baby was coming out and then they took them off for me to push…It was unbelievable. Like I was going to go anywhere.’”

while the policy has been changed in federal prisons there are still state and local prisons that continue to shackle women during pregnancy and birth….check out more here


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