Congress, Make Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners a Crime

  • by: Susan V
  • recipient: US Congress

The thought of shackling a woman during labor or delivery is so horrific, one would expect only the most uncivilized places to allow it. But currently those places include most of the US states.

Even in the dozen or so states that have banned the practice, it still goes on in prisons where wardens or guards have no clue about the law or the health risks involved.

A recent NY Times article tells the stories of two Bedford Hills pregnant inmates who were shackled in 2011 and 2012, throughout their pregnancy and during labor, even though NY supposedly banned the practice in 2009. Even though one of these women had a cesarean, she was still cuffed to a chain clamped around her abdomen, bearing down on her sutured incision.

A survey conducted by Correctional Association of New York, to be released this month, found that 23 of 27 women who gave birth in NY's prison system after 2009 had been shackled just before, during or after their delivery.

Imagine what goes on in the many other states that have not even passed laws banning this practice. Some women have reported even having their ankles shackled thorughout delivery!

Congress must pass a law to make shackling of pregnant inmates in any state a crime.

We, the undersigned find this practice of shackling pregnant inmates barbaric.

New York is not the only state that is routinely violating its laws banning the practice.
The Correctional Association of New York found the problem to be a multi-state one. Even though 21 states have actually enacted laws against shackling pregnant inmates before and after delivery, negligence in implementing the laws is widespread.

The Association points out that both political  parties favor banning the practice and so does the medical community and criminologists. However, guards and prison officials either are not informed about anti-shackling laws or are they are not trained to comply with them.

Even after a class-action suit in one Illinois county helped strengthen legislation in that county, other areas in the state continue to ignore the ban on shackling the state had enacted in the late 90s. An unpublished survey found 20 Illinois institutions still didn't have written policies that fully complied with the statewide law.

And although California passed prohibitive legislation in 2005 and updated it in 2012, a 2014 report still found that a majority of the state's county correctional facilities had not yet developed proper written policies.

CANY'S director Kraft-Stolar says these laws were enacted because the practice of shackling pregnant women, before, during or after delivery is "an affront to human rights and decency," and the fact that these laws are "being routinely violated is egregious."

Clearly it's time for Congress to take a firm stand against this human rights and health violation and make this practice of shackling pregnant inmates a crime.

Thanks for your time.

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