Movement Builds to Stop Shackling Pregnant Prisoners

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pregnantprisonNew York becomes sixth state to sign a law prohibiting the practice. The Editors of The Crime Report take a look behind the scenes of this trend.

Special Report

The movement to ban shackling pregnant prisoners is gaining national momentum. Last Thursday, New York's Governor David Paterson signed a bill banning the practice for all but the most unruly inmates, making the state the sixth to enact such a law.

Prisons have been shackling women before, during and after childbirth for decades, but advocates say that a combination of new federal prison practices and increased pressure from human rights groups is accelerating reform.

The first state law banning restraints during labor passed in Illinois in 2000, but it wasn’t until seven years later that one the movement’s chief advocates, Malika Saada Saar, founder and director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, took up the issue after hearing tales of shackling from the former female prisoners in her leadership classes. Saar, with help from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (who, in his nomination hearings, asked Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey if he agreed with the practice) began meeting with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service, with the hope of convincing them to stop shackling.

After what Saar describes as a full year of back and forth negotiations, in October 2008 both agencies agreed to stop routinely shackling pregnant inmates, and ban all use of belly shackles. Previously, pregnant women being transported to medical facilities (and during labor) were often restrained at the arms, legs and across their middle, even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said the practice puts the woman and her unborn child “at risk.”

“I think the change at the federal level signaled to states that this was a policy change they should implement,” said Saar, who is now planning a national push to encourage states to enact similar reform. “There might be a way to tie federal funding to the use of shackles, but that's a punitive approach, which isn't ideal.”

New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, has been trying to get legislative support for un-shackling for eight years. Sen. Montgomery was on vacation last week when her bill finally became law, but her Director of Communications Jim Vogel told The Crime Report that for years Montgomery couldn't even find an Assembly member to co-sponsor the bill.

“Eight years ago this issue wasn't on anybody's radar,” said Vogel. But with a Democrat in the Governor's mansion and Montgomery's new role as the Chair of the Children and Families Committee, the stars were aligned.

But the movement has not been without set-backs. In May 2008, the Eighth Circuit upheld Arkansas’s practice of shackling pregnant prisoners by the legs and arms during labor.

Here is what is happening in your state:

Only six states–California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Vermont–have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Women detained in 44 states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Bureau of Prisons lack such legislative protection. Some state departments of corrections did not provide details on what type of restraints may be utilized during labor, nor did they provide their policy.

(Research provided by Amnesty International and The Rebecca Project for Human Rights.)

Alabama

Alabama stated that restraints depend on the security class of the woman, but that “often two extremities are restrained.” Alabama allows the use of restraints during labor. Alabama may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Alaska

Alaska allows the use of restraints during labor.

Arizona

Arizona may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester. Arizona has no written policy governing restraints on pregnant women.

Arkansas

Arkansas reportedly has a policy stipulating that women with “lesser disciplinary records” will at times have one arm and one leg restrained by flexible nylon “soft restraints.” Arkansas did not provide information on how women with other disciplinary records are restrained. Arkansas may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester. In Nelson v Norris, the Eighth Circuit upheld Arkansas’s restraint policy.

California

California does not use restraints during labor and delivery. California has legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. California may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Colorado

Colorado has no legislation limiting the use of shackling on pregnant inmates.

Connecticut

Connecticut has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth. Connecticut may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Delaware

Delaware allows the use of restraints during labor. Delaware may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Florida

Florida has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth. Florida reported that placement of an officer in the delivery room is decided on a case-by-case basis. Florida may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Georgia

Georgia does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Georgia may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Hawaii

Hawaii reported that they have no policy but that the practice is not to restrain women during labor and birth.

Idaho

Idaho allows the use of restraints during labor. Idaho may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Illinois

Illinois allow restraints until the inmate is in “active labor” or arrives at the delivery room. Illinois has legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Illinois may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Indiana

Indiana allows the use of restraints during labor. Indiana may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Iowa

Iowa reported that they have no policy but that the practice is not to restrain women during labor and birth. Iowa may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Kansas

Kansas has a policy on restraining pregnant women during transportation, but no policy governing the use of restraints on women during labor and birth. The practice is not to restrain women during labor and birth. Kansas may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Kentucky

Kentucky has no legislation limiting the use of shackling on pregnant inmates. The use of use of restraints during labor is based on hospital protocol and procedure.

Louisiana

Louisiana prisons have no restrictions on the application of restraints other than specifying that pregnant women should not be restrained facedown in four-point restraints. Louisiana also allows restraints, including leg irons to be utilized. Louisiana may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Maine

Maine allows the use of restraints during labor. Maine may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Maryland

Maryland has no legislation limiting the use of shackling on pregnant inmates. Maryland DOC did not answer survey questions about policy towards women in labor.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts allow restraints until the inmate is in “active labor” or arrives at the delivery room. Massachusetts may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Michigan

Michigan does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Michigan may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Minnesota

Minnesota allows the use of restraints during labor. Minnesota may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Mississippi

Mississippi allows the use of restraints during labor. Mississippi may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Missouri

Missouri does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Missouri may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Montana

Montana does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Montana may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Nebraska

Nebraska does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Nebraska may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Nevada

Nevada reported that “normally only wrist restraints” are used. Nevadamay use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire stated that one foot maybe shackled to the bed during labor depending on security class of the woman in labor. New Hampshire may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

New Jersey

Women are not restrained in their third trimester, no restraints are applied during labor and an officer is stationed outside the door.

New Mexico

New Mexico does not use restraints during labor and delivery. New Mexico may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

New York

NY legislation passed Thursday prohibits state and local correctional authorities from using restraints on a pregnant female inmate who is being transported for childbirth, during labor and delivery, and in post-natal recovery. An exception to this rule is made under extraordinary circumstances where restraints are determined to be necessary to prevent the woman from injuring herself, medical or correctional personnel. In these instances, a pregnant woman may be cuffed by one wrist.

North Carolina

North Carolina allows the use of restraints during labor. North Carolina may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

North Dakota

North Dakota does not use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester. No other information was provided.

Ohio

Ohio allows the use of restraints during labor. Ohio may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma allows restraints until the inmate is in “active labor” or arrives at the delivery room. Oklahoma may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Oregon

Oregon reported that it does not use restraints during labor and delivery “unless expressly requested by the attending physician.” Oregon may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania allows restraints until the inmate is in “active labor” or arrives at the delivery room. Pennsylvania may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth.

South Carolina

South Carolina allows the use of restraints during labor. South Carolina may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

South Dakota

South Dakota does not use restraints during labor and delivery. South Dakota may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Tennessee

Tennessee allows the use of restraints during labor. Tennessee may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Texas

Texas does not use restraints during labor and delivery. Texas may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Utah

Utah did not respond to survey questions on DOC policy for pregnant women.

Vermont

Vermont has no legislation limiting the use of shackling on pregnant inmates.

Virginia

Virginia did not respond to survey questions on DOC policy for pregnant women.

Washington

Washington has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth. Washington may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

West Virginia

West Virginia reports that leg restraints would not be used during labor. West Virginia may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin allows restraints until the inmate is in “active labor” or arrives at the delivery room. Wisconsin may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester.

Wyoming

Wyoming has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth.

Federal Bureau of Prison

Federal Bureau of prisons agreed to stop routinely shackling pregnant inmates, and ban all use of belly shackles in October 2008.

District of Columbia

District of Columbia has a written policy stipulating that no restraints are to be used on inmates during labor and birth.

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