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The predominant reaction I receive when I talk to people about Maryland’s practice of shackling pregnant prisoners is one of surprise and disgust. Many view the practice as barbaric and aged. When I describe what happens to those prisoners who go into labor, who are shackled to their hospital beds and restricted from movement while they give birth, people often ask, “But why are we still doing that?”
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), as in many universities and colleges, there is not much attention given—academic or otherwise—to the violence of the United States prison system. However, after taking a class that examined the oppressiveness of US prisons, my peers and I decided to work with our student organization, Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL), to host a panel that would engage our community in an introductory discussion on the many issues of the prison industrial complex, as well as present avenues of activism for students eager to work for social justice and change.
On November 13th, 2013, my co-leader, Susie Hinz, and I hosted “Inside/Out: Revealing the Prison Industrial Complex” in UMBC’s Skylight Room. Six panelists from diverse backgrounds passed on their knowledge and insight about the prison system, invigorated students to learn more, and taught them how they could help as student activists. Two of the panelists that spoke to students were State Delegate Mary Washington of District 43 in Baltimore City and Jacqueline Robarge, the founder of Power Inside, a grassroots organization in Baltimore that serves women and families and advocates for the end of gender-based violence and oppression.
Del. Washington and Robarge were key figures in the creation of HB0829, a bill that would have prohibited the shackling of pregnant prisoners. The bill was proposed in the 2013 Maryland state legislative session, but with harmful amendments made to it in the process, it died. However, Del. Washington and Robarge were able to educate the UMBC community gathered at Inside/Out about the issue of shackling. The panelists described the experience of being shackled while going into labor, why the practice needed to be prohibited, and how we, as Maryland residents and student activists can help to affect future legislation that Del. Washington would continue to sponsor. After the event, Robarge and her team from Power Inside were able to collect signatures from the UMBC community in support of future legislation that would end shackling in Maryland.
While Inside/Out was only a stepping stone for the UMBC community to engage with prison activism, it proved to be an excellent venue for reaching out to students, making connections, and garnering more support for the prohibition of shackling pregnant prisoners in Maryland.
After last year’s unsuccessful struggle for human rights in Maryland, Delegate Mary Washington is back again this year to stop the practice of shackling pregnant women while incarcerated in local jails and state prisons. To read the bill text go here: House Bill 27 – 2014 Session – 1st Reading.
The filing of this year’s bill marks the start of our campaign to change how we do business in our jails and prisons. Last year over one hundred organizations and individuals endorsed the statement of opposition in order to tell state law makers that we don’t want the safety of women and their pregnancies jeopardized. To include your opposition go to www.stopshacklingmd.org and complete the form, THEN tell a friend!
The bill is aptly named the “Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act” and is summarized as prohibiting the use of a physical restraint on an inmate while the inmate is in labor or during delivery; requiring the medical professional responsible for the care of a certain inmate to determine when the inmate’s health allows the inmate to be returned to a correctional facility after giving birth; prohibiting, with certain exceptions, a physical restraint from being used on a certain inmate; requiring a correctional facility todocument certain use of a physical restraint; requiring the managing official of a local correctional facility to take certain actions when a certain representation concerning an inmate is made; requiring the Department of Juvenile Services to adopt certain regulations; requiring the Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the managing official of each local correctional facility to provide a certain report to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before a certain date; declaring the findings of the General Assembly, defining certain terms; generally relating to pregnant inmates and the use of physical restraints.
In a Capital News Service online article by Lucy Westcott sweeping problems in the US prison system were illuminated relating to the manner in which we incarcerate women, provide few services, and sometimes further their trauma. National context was provided by Mare Mauer from the Sentencing Project and Amy Fettig from the American Civil Liberties Union. The article noted the impact of gender violence, poverty and drug policy on incarceration rates and the prison system’s ability to provide adequate services to women who need them. Maryland was featured heavily in the piece with women who had survived sexual assault and shackling during childbirth in the state system coming forward to tell their stories. Regarding shackling, A Maryland Department of Public Safety representative pointed out that, “It’s the local jails in Maryland that have problems with shackling” and that there were varying policies from jail to jail. Local advocate from Power Inside offered that shackling should happen to no one, ever, and that greater transparency was needed to understand the extent of the use of shackling. Read the article HERE
Rachel Roth has worked nationwide to improve treatment and conditions of incarcerated pregnant women. Now her home state of Massachusetts is moving forward to limit shackling. If you live Massachusetts it is time to mobilize! Here is Rachel’s blog post in Moms Rising that will bring you up to speed and tell you how to get involved. Read HERE.
Maryland House Bill 829, the bill that would Stop Shackling Pregnant Women In Maryland, is dead for this legislative session. There were many twists and turns, and with the harmful amendments passed by two committees, we can be relieved that it will not go forward in its current form. This practice has been going on since women have been giving birth behind bars — the bill that bans shacking pregnant women must be done right. We appreciate valiant work from lead sponsor Mary Washington and Delegate Ariana Kelly, and the work and advocacy by you and many others. Keep an eye out for next steps — we cannot stop until we know that we will forever Stop Shackling Pregnant Women in Maryland.
The campaign to end shackling pregnant women in Maryland was featured in a Washington Post article. Angela Bailey courageously stepped up to tell her story. “In her hospital room, Bailey recalled, she was unshackled so that she could undress, and then cuffed by her ankle to her hospital bed. They removed the restraint six hours later, but only after a doctor asked. Bailey was just about to give birth.”
The Maryland Statement of Opposition has been signed by nearly 100 individuals and organizations in Maryland and beyond. The breadth of signatories speaks volumes about the extent of support to stop this harmful practice in Maryland. Organizational supporters include healthcare organizations, local service providers who work with women, legal organizations, faith-based organizations, student groups, and local and national women’s rights organizations, among others. Individuals from Maryland and across the country have also signed on in support, including health care professionals, social workers, academics, judges, and everyday citizens who object to the practice of shacklingpregnant women who are incarcerated. Read the statement here (PDF): Opposition_statement_final 022513
Danielle gives her courageous testimony about being shackled while giving birth in a Maryland facility. She tells her story in hopes that Maryland law makers will ban this barbaric practice so no one will go through what she did. To watch the video, CLICK HERE.
Maryland House Bill 829 has been filed and a hearing has been scheduled on 2/26 in Annapolis. To read the bill, find out about hearings, and see revisions, CLICK HERE. Here is the bill summary: Requiring that the medical professional responsible for the care of an inmate determine when the inmate’s health allows the inmate to be returned to a correctional facility after giving birth; providing that it is the policy of the State that restraint of pregnant inmates during labor and delivery should not be used unless determined necessary by an attending medical professional or specified others; requiring the security officer of a correctional facility to make and maintain specified written findings; etc.
After years of work, dangerous shackles and restraints can no longer be used on pregnant women in California’s prisons and jails. Governor Brown signed AB 2530, authored by Assembly member Atkins, after it passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. Read the California ACLU’s press release: CLICK HERE.