Sheriff’s deputies are shackling some female inmates to the bed during childbirth at Pittsburgh’s Magee-Womens Hospital, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The practice has prompted an outcry from advocacy groups. Sheriff Pete DeFazio was unaware of the practice. He said, “That’s crazy. It’s hard for me to believe. To tell you the truth, I don’t believe it.” A hospital official said that of the 15 to 20 inmates from Allegheny County Jail who give birth every year, about half are restrained by one wrist to the sideboard of the bed by a deputy. If an arm restraint impedes the delivery, a doctor or nurse will ask the deputy to remove it.
The issue of shackling prisoners during delivery has heated up in recent years after Amnesty International USA issued a state-by-state study of the practice. The debate pits security and flight risk issues against the reproductive rights of women. One arm restraint “is better than leg irons, but why do they need it? How much of a flight risk can a woman in labor be?” asked Sheila Dauer of Amnesty International USA. Only two states — Illinois and California — have a law prohibiting shackling of female inmates during childbirth, said Dauer, and New York is considering a bill that would ban it.