Jails in Some States Still Allowed to Shackle Female Inmates During Pregnancy

A controversial topic in recent years has been treatment of female inmates during childbirth. Though it is an image that many do not think of when envisioning the prison population, there are often pregnant women who get sentenced to prison time, with their due date set for their time in jail. Correctional facilities have various policies regarding what must happen during these births. Our Illinois birth injury lawyers appreciate that there is much disagreement about what policies work best and what policies are even constitutionally allowed. We have previously blogged about several birth injury lawsuits related to improper treatment of pregnant inmates.

However, many jurisdictions still allow shackling during pregnancy and labor. For example, the Warren County Reporter reported this week on the failure of a piece of legislation in Virginia that would have prohibited shackling of these inmates during labor. According to the report, a General Assembly Delegate sponsored the measure this session, but the bill failed to make it out of a subcommittee.

The Delegate who introduced the measures explained that he was appalled when he discovered that the practice still went on. He summarized by noting that as he “dug into the policies and what motivated the prisons and the local and regional jails to do this, [he found that] they really don’t have a policy; they just shackled everyone.” This seemed misguided. He instead was hoping to urge lawmakers to use the lease restrictive restraints possible in these situations. This does not seem like a controversial provision. Common decency would seem to suggest that a pregnant woman should not be shackled if the shackles are not truly necessary.

This is not just a decency problem, either. The health and well being of the mother and child can be affected. A birth injury could result that otherwise might be prevented as a result of this policy. According to a local member of the ACLU which supported the change to the bill, there is much documentation on the risks associated with these practices. She noted, “Pregnancy can create problems with balance that are exacerbated by shackling.” The shackles make it more likely that a pregnant woman might trip or otherwise brace herself during a fall. The contact made in these falls can lead to miscarriage or injury. Another delegate supporting the measure emphasized that the female body was inclined to move during labor. Moving into the proper birthing condition is necessary for a safe and healthy childbirth. Shackling may prevent that, leading to a range of potential birth injuries.

Interestingly both conservative groups (a pro-family council) as well as a myriad of liberal groups have voiced support for the measure. However, that did not stop the subcommittee to which the bill was assigned from tabled the measure. This move effectively ends the bill’s momentum this cycle and prevents a full committee from hearing the matter. In the meantime, opponents of shackling pregnant inmates are hoping to stop the practice by influencing internal policies with the jails outside of the state legislative process which would have forced the rule changes.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Fourteen Year Battle Continues for Woman Who Gave Birth in Jail Cell

Woman Sues Sheriff for Treatment During Birth

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