Lawyer to shackle herself during childbirth to protest shackling of incarcerated women

In my latest article for Colorlines Magazine, I write about the efforts to prevent prisons and jails (and detention centers) from shackling incarcerated pregnant women. What inspired me to write about this issue, which has been covered pretty extensively by the progressive media in the past, were Rebecca Brodie’s plans to shackle herself during her own birth as a protest of the practice. From the article:

Rebecca Brodie sits in her suburban Massachusetts home, talking on the phone with me while her family member sits nearby, filming the interview. The oldest female correctional facility in the United States, MCI-Framingham, is just a short eight-minute drive away. “When I conceived my third child earlier this year, it really hit home for me because everywhere I go I pass the prison,” Brodie explained. “I have all these choices and opportunities: who do I want in the room with me, do I want a water birth, or a home birth? Obviously the incarcerated women can’t make these choices.”

The proximity of the women’s prison and Brodie’s pro-bono legal work with incarcerated women is what inspired the protest she’s planning for December, when her third child is born. If all goes according to plan, she’ll be laboring and delivering her baby in metal restraints that restrict her arms and legs. She’s planning to simulate the same conditions that many incarcerated pregnant women face when delivering in state prisons and jails, including some of the women housed at the prison right by her home.

I’m still not sure what I think about Brodie’s plans. It’s an extreme form of protest, one that involves much spectacle (and a documentary to boot). But what it was clear everyone I talked to cares about the most is bringing attention to this horrific practice in hopes of ending it.

Only 14 states specifically ban the practice, and even those states don’t necessarily ban the use of shackles during transport. Governor Brown in California has a bill waiting on his desk for signature that would ban the practice during transport as well. The more work I do in the field of social justice the more I believe that the practices of our criminal justice system are some of the most dire issues we face today. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, and the treatment of people on the inside brings up many, many human rights questions.

I’m glad I was able to talk to one of the founders of volunteer doula program that I seriously admire, Marianne Bullock from the Prison Birth Project, for this article. Marianne and the other PBP folks work at a prison in Massachusetts, trying to address the myriad challenges moms on the inside face, including shackling.

Read the full article here.


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