Giving Birth in Prison

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Last month, New York legislators passed legislation to end the practice of shackling imprisoned women during labor and childbirth. If signed into law by Governor David Paterson, New York would join California and Illinois in being the only states to ban this practice. The 47 other states have still not addressed the issue with legislation, and 23 have regulations expressly allowing the use of restraints during labor and childbirth. 

The practice of shackling during labor and childbirth involves the woman’s ankle(s), wrist(s), or both being shackled to her hospital bed. Shackling is often carried out regardless of whether or not an inmate has a history of violence or has ever attempted to escape. 
It is estimated that that 6% of women admitted to local jails and 5% of those admitted to state prisons are pregnant, and that about 2,000 babies are born inside detention facilities every year in the United States. 
Women who have experienced shackling claim that it makes labor and childbirth more excruciating and they are often unable to adjust themselves into more comfortable positions. Some even claim to have had their legs shackled together, thus complicating the procedure by being unable to have their feet put in stirrups and making it impossible to remove the lower part of the hospital bed for easier delivery. 
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has taken the position that “physical restraints interfere with the physician’s ability to safely practice medicine by reducing their ability to assess and evaluate the physical condition of the mother and the fetus…thus, overall putting the lives of women and unborn children at risk.” 
-Kyle Kuersten
Giving Birth in Shackles (by Meghan Rhoad, Human Rights Watch)
Giving Birth in Shackles: A Constitutional and Human Rights Violation (by Dana L. Sichel, Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law)) (PDF)


Eric Phillip 13 years ago
Actually, Vermont, Illinois, and California have all had laws to prevent shackling of pregnant women for several years, and New Mexico passed a law earlier this year, so New York would be the 5th state. Unless Governor Perry in Texas beats New York's Governor Patterson in signing new legislation; a law to prevent shackling in Texas passed last week as well.
Pray4Peace 13 years ago
Finally some common sense and a little compassion. Let's work to spread common sense and compassion through our big-business prison systems that are not doing their job of rehabiliation even while they are bankrupting the states. Unreasonably long sentences, unjustly denying parole for serious ex-offenders who are not, or no longer are, dangerous, replacing mental health hospitals with prison time, and the overwhelmed, broken parole system is a big factor in California's economic woes. It is known as the "state of higher incarceration" for good reason. States should evaluate each inmate convicted for serious crime before deciding on parole. The police officers killed in Oakland by a man on parole would have been spared, and thousands of other inmates deserving of release, who are almost automatically denied parole, would not be costing the state nearly $49,000 each every year in incarceration cost.
Frank Courser 13 years ago
There could not be a more draconian practice than this! There is absolutely no reason for it! Prisoners are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment! And there is no reason to endanger a new born child by shackling the mother. It is inconceivable to think an inmate in labor would attempt escape! The federal government should pass legislation to once and for all end this insane and dangerous practice.

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