Most Prisons Still Shackle Female Inmates While They're Giving Birth


Did you know that most U.S. states — 33, to be exact — allow prison officers to shackle female inmates to their hospital beds while they are giving birth?

California is no longer one of them — Univision reports that the state recently passed a law that will ban jails from using “leg irons, waist chains and handcuffs behind the body” on women during labor, delivery or recovery — but the fact that the Golden State is in the minority makes it all the more obvious that prisons are ill-equipped to deal with female inmates.

Shackling pregnant women isn’t just disrespectful (to say the least); the American Medical Association has officially deemed the practice unsafe, “medically hazardous,” and “barbaric.” That hasn’t stopped prisons from doing it — even in Illinois, which has anti-shackling laws, a class-action lawsuit filed by 80 female inmates claimed they were shackled while giving birth as well as recovering. (They won a $4.1 settlement.)

It’s not like most of the women being restrained are sociopaths or mass murderers, either. Univision‘s Cristina Costantini points out that immigrant detainees who are only guilty of crossing the border are often victims of the practice, even if they’re just “detained”:

Federal prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) do not shackle pregnant inmates during the birthing process. However, if a woman goes into labor while placed on a so-called immigration “detainer,” a period in which ICE asks local authorities to hold inmates for possible deportation, she will be subject to shackling policies of the local authorities, which vary state-by-state. For those jailed for immigration offenses, the treatment seems particularly extreme, [Malika Saar, an advocate who heads an anti-shackling coalition with The Rebecca Project for Human Rights] said.

“Pregnant women are the most vulnerable and the least threatening in the prison system and should rarely, if ever, be restrained,” Alicia M. Walters, a reproductive justice advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, wrote after California passed the new law. Will more states follow suit?

Should a Woman Be Shackled While Giving Birth? Most States Think So [Univision]

Image via Pavlov Mikhail/Shutterstock.

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