The practice of keeping female prisoners in shackles while they give birth is barbaric, editorializes the New York Times, but it remains legal in more than 40 states, and advocates of prisoners' rights say it is common. A federal appeals court has found that the shackling of an Arkansas inmate may have violated the Constitution – but the margin was uncomfortably close.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled, 6 to 5, that a jury could find that an inmate's shackling was unconstitutional. The court relied in part on a 2002 Supreme Court holding that Alabama's practice of tying prisoners to a hitching post violated the Eighth Amendment. The Times says the ruling should help persuade other courts and state legislatures that the shackling of pregnant prisoners is unconstitutional. Several states have made the practice illegal under certain circumstances.