More States Restricting Chaining of Pregnant Inmates, But It Still Happens: NPR


A pregnant inmate at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee, Massachusetts, poses for a portrait in the facility’s visitation area in 2014.

Dina Rudick/Boston Globe/Getty Images


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More States Restricting Chaining of Pregnant Inmates, But It Still Happens: NPR

A pregnant inmate at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee, Massachusetts, poses for a portrait in the facility’s visitation area in 2014.

Dina Rudick/Boston Globe/Getty Images

The Tennessee Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would restrict the use of shackles and other restraints on pregnant inmates — the latest state to limit what medical experts say is a common but dangerous practice for pregnant women and fetuses.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than a dozen states have no laws restricting shackling pregnant inmates, and those that do often make exceptions for public safety or other reasons. .

It’s unclear exactly how many pregnant inmates are chained or restrained each year, but experts say it still happens in US jails and prisons, where around 58,000 pregnant women pass through each year.

A 2018 study found that, of hospital nurses who reported caring for incarcerated women during pregnancy or the postpartum period, 82.9% said their incarcerated patients were shackled “sometimes all the time”.

“It’s a very humiliating and dangerous practice,” Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told NPR.

“A lot of these policies that prison systems have about chaining people up when they go for medical care outside are just plain nonsense,” Kendrick added.

Medical community opposes shackling pregnant inmates

Medical experts strongly criticize the practice of shackling pregnant inmates. National organizations — from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the American Medical Association to the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses — oppose or support the restrictions.

Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says having an inmate shackled during labor and delivery presents challenges for doctors and nurses.

For example, if medical staff detect a deceleration in the fetal heart rate and are concerned about fetal distress, they may want the pregnant inmate to change position. In other cases, if a detainee needs an emergency caesarean section, he will have to be quickly transferred to the operating room.

“All of those things are hampered if that person is chained to the bed, and we don’t have time to negotiate with an officer to unlock the restraints so we can provide urgent emergency medical care,” Sufrin said.

Even before labor and delivery, pregnant inmates who are shackled face other risks, such as blood clots. Sufrin said restrained inmates are also at a higher risk of falling and are unable to break their fall, which could lead to bleeding or even stillbirth.

The practice is not universally banned in the United States

Despite widespread opposition to shackling pregnant inmates, not all states prohibit it by law.

At least 37 states have laws limiting shackling of pregnant inmates, after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a measure into law last week.

Some of these states go so far as to prohibit shackling throughout pregnancy as well as during labor, delivery, and the postpartum recovery period.

Federal law also restricts the practice. The First Step Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018, prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant women in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the US Marshals Service.

Sufrin said these kinds of laws are needed now because jails and jails were never envisioned to house and provide health care to pregnant women.

“The reason we need to have a law, for me, is because our prison system is fundamentally gendered to imagine the prisoner by default as male,” she said.

Even among the laws that do exist, there are frequently exceptions if authorities believe a pregnant inmate may attempt to flee or harm others.

Tennessee is latest state to move toward limiting restraints on pregnant inmates

Tennessee lawmakers say state officials already limit the practice of shackling pregnant inmates during labor in public facilities, but the proposal would enshrine the ban in state law and extend it to prisons as well. County.

The state Senate approved the bill unopposed on Thursday. The House of Representatives passed it on Monday.

It now needs Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s signature to become law.

The measure prohibits pregnant inmates from being restrained except in certain circumstances, such as if a prison officer determines that the inmate poses a flight or security risk. Inmates can also be restrained “solely by handcuffs to the front of his body” during transport or outside their facility.

The law prohibits a pregnant inmate from being tied around the ankles, legs, or waist during labor and delivery. It also prohibits holding the hands of a pregnant inmate behind her back or tying them to another inmate.

“We want safe and healthy pregnancies for every mother and every child,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Democrat who sponsored the Tennessee bill, said in a statement.

“By restricting the dangerous and inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated women who give birth in correctional custody, we are promoting better pregnancy outcomes,” she added.

The Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association challenged an earlier version of the bill, saying pregnant inmates could still pose a threat to those around them, WPLN reported.

“Just because an inmate is pregnant doesn’t mean she’s incapacitated, and we don’t know what everyone thinks of what her attempts or actions might be,” the executive director said. of the association, Jeff Bledsoe, at a recent committee hearing. “We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and restraints help protect us, protect the inmate.”

The bill was later amended to address those concerns along with other comments from the Tennessee Department of Corrections, according to WPLN.


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