You Can Help Stop the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates

Did you know that since 2005, it is illegal in California to shackle pregnant inmates while they are being transported to the hospital while in labor?

But did you know that in other instances, shackling of pregnant inmates is still legal?

According to The Guardian, ten U.S. states currently have shackling laws on the books (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Pennsylvania).

California Legislation

In 2005, CA legislation was enacted with AB 478 (Lieber). As previously wrote, this legislation states that no prisoner:

“shall not be shackled by the wrists, ankles, or both during labor, including during transport to the hospital, during delivery, and while in recovery after giving birth.”

Although the law has been in effect for some time, recently it has become evident that not all correctional officers are abiding by it in the jails and prisons across the state.

According to California NOW, our Golden State currently has the distinction of having the largest female inmate population of any state.

AB 1900 (Skinner)

New legislation is currently being considered to amend the 2005 law, enter AB 1900 (Skinner). If passed by the California legislature, the bill will prohibit shackling of pregnant women in county jails, state prisons and juvenile facilities at any time unless the woman presents a danger to herself or others.

You can peruse the documents related to this bill here.

Per Karen Shain, Policy Director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a legal advocacy group based in San Francisco:

The bill comes out of the personal experience of a young mother who was incarcerated at Contra Costa County Jail during the bulk of her pregnancy.  She was shackled every time she went to court–oftentimes with a belly shackle and attached to a male prisoner.  She was also shackled at the hospital where she was admitted with pre-eclampsia–she was shackled to the bed, having to call a guard every time she needed to go to the bathroom.  Then she was attached to a large chain that would give her enough distance to be able to use a commode, but not enough to actually use the bathroom in her room!  While it is illegal for pregnant women to be shackled when going to the hospital when in labor, all other shackling of pregnant women is currently legal in California.

The bill will require that Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) set uniform standards across the State of California for how incarcerated pregnant women may be restrained.

As of August 12, 2010 the bill has passed the house and made it’s way to the senate, having been amended and a third reading has been ordered.

The HAMO Connection

Our partner agency Family, Maternal and Child Health Programs of Contra Costa county has a program, Lift Every Voice, that has been an integral part of raising awareness of this issue and advocating for this piece of legislation.

We here at HAMO believe that every baby matters and that every mother, regardless of her current status, deserves access to appropriate prenatal and postpartum care. This is a human rights issue, not only for the expectant mother, but also for the child she is carrying.

How You Can Help

1) Send a letter of support for AB 1900 to Nancy Skinner’s office in Sacramento, as well as a copy to your CA State Senator, (updated 8/18/10) and Governor Schwarzenegger.

Updated 8/18/10: The ACLU of Northern California has a handy tool for you to contact Governor Schwarzenegger. Find it by clicking here.

2) Spread the word to your network. Blog, Tweet, and Facebook it. Talk about it with your friends.

Any reporters reading this? If you email me I would be happy to put you in touch with our sources: lisa at helpamotherout dotorg.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Had you heard about shackling pregnant women inmates previously? If you reside outside California, do you know your state’s policy on addressing this practice?

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