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Guest post by Rachel Roth
I was thrilled to have a front-row seat at the State House in Boston when Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill to change the way that pregnant women in jail and prison are treated.
The room was packed with at least 100 policymakers, legislative staffers, and advocates who support an end to shackling. After he signed the bill, Governor Patrick said, “It blows my mind that I have to sign a law for that.”
Advocates in Massachusetts have been trying to get this issue on the public’s radar for years. This legislative session, we took a page from the playbook of our friends in Maryland and wrote a petition to raise awareness and demonstrate support for change. After we testified in favor of the bill at a hearing in December, we launched the petition and used action alerts and social media to spread the word.
Although no one spoke out publicly against the bill, as happened in Maryland, we knew that corrections officials were expressing their opposition behind the scenes. We pressed the argument that shackling pregnant women is unsafe, unnecessary, and inhumane. That argument became even more powerful when women who knew firsthand what it’s like to be shackled during labor got involved and started speaking out for change.
Michelle described being shackled to the hospital bed by her wrist and her ankle during 18 hours of labor. Kenzie described being shackled with handcuffs and ankle restraints as she slid around the backseat of a police car, trying with all her might not to push. She had her baby minutes after arriving at the hospital because the jail staff ignored her when she said she was in labor. Kenzie was shackled to the bed throughout her entire postpartum hospital stay, and both Michelle and Kenzie were shackled on the way back to prison.
What we got in our new statute
The new Massachusetts law, which went into effect immediately, sets strict limits on shackling and also guarantees minimum standards of care for pregnant women in the state prison and in all county jails.
The bill bans the use of any restraints on women during labor and childbirth. There are no exceptions. The bill bans the use of waist chains and leg irons on women who are pregnant or who have given birth. There are no exceptions.
The bill allows the use of handcuffs in front of a woman’s body during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy and during postpartum recovery only if a woman presents an immediate threat of harm to herself or others or a credible risk of escape that cannot be controlled in other ways.
The bill requires the state prison and county jails to provide prenatal and postpartum care, including mental health care, and to have on staff at least one medical professional who is trained in pregnancy care. The bill also requires appropriate nutrition, vitamins, and supplements, at least one hour a day to walk or exercise, and maternity clothes.
What we wish we got
The final version of the bill deleted an important provision on oversight that would have required annual reports documenting incidents of shackling. The reports would have been filed with the Legislature and made available to the public. Some type of oversight is critical to see whether these laws are working. Research in California and Texas found many county jails that never even wrote policies to comply with state statutes against shackling. In Illinois, dozens of women in labor were illegally shackled the Cook County Jail in Chicago, despite a state law on the books for more than a decade.
And on the very day that we celebrated our new law in Massachusetts, the ACLU of Pennsylvania called on the state Attorney General to do something about repeated violations of their 2010 statute against shackling.
Looking to the future
I wish that passing a law were enough to secure women’s right to be free from shackling during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. But experience tells us it is just one step. The coalitions we formed in Massachusetts, Maryland, and other states need to stay active and find ways to monitor the impact of the laws we worked so hard to achieve.
We should also see our campaigns against shackling as part of a larger struggle to reduce the impact of the criminal justice system on women’s lives. We can apply our tried-and-true advocacy skills to other issues, like repealing mandatory minimum sentences, shifting public policy to treat drug use as a public health challenge instead of a crime, and reforming the bail system so that most people go home before and during their trial. The more we can do to keep women out of prison and jail in the first place, the less we have to worry about the harm that women will experience inside the walls.About Rachel Roth: Rachel Roth is a writer, consultant, and advocate for reproductive justice, rights, and health. Much of her work focuses on the impact of imprisonment on women’s lives and the need for new drug policies and criminal justice policies. She lives in the Boston area and is the author of the book Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights.
This post adapts content originally published at MomsRising.
Reproductive justice scholar, Rachel Roth, shares the latest update on the national fight to ban shackling pregnant incarcerated women. In her most recent Mom’s Rising blog post, Maryland Advances Bill against Shackling, she celebrates Maryland’s progress and gives an overall update on national advances. Read Rachel’s post here: https://www.momsrising.org/blog/maryland-advances-bill-against-shackling/
According to Rachel Roth’s post in Mom’s Rising today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced plans to issue emergency regulations to put a stop to the shackling of pregnant women in labor.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) released its report, “No More Shackles: A report on the written policies of California’s counties under the new law that limits the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners.”
In 2012, LSPC worked with Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins to enact legislation that prohibits the most dangerous forms of restraint from being used on any pregnant incarcerated woman (Penal Code §3407). This new law bans leg irons, waist chains, and handcuffs behind the back, and Governor Brown signed it September 28, 2012.
In March 2013, LSPC embarked on a project to determine whether all 58 California counties had written new policies on the shackling of pregnant prisoners to comply with the 2012 legislation. The report explains the new statute, describes LSPC’s efforts to obtain documentation from the counties, outlines our findings, and makes recommendations for additional legislation, regulation, and research.
The report verifies that 21 counties have policies in total compliance with the law. However, they are concerned that almost two-thirds of the counties in California, 34 of 58, still have written policies that do not fully comply with the law one year after it went into effect.
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.
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.”
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.