For three years now advocates in California have been working to extend the ban on shackling pregnant incarcerated women to include shackling during transport as well as labor and delivery. The ban on shackling during labor was already on the books, and this policy, which passed the legislature two years in a row before being vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger and then Governor Brown, was finally signed on Friday.
While shackling during labor gets the most media attention, it’s not the only problem that pregnant women in prison face.
I wrote more about this for Colorlines last year, but pregnant people in prison face many challenges: inadequate nutrition, exercise, prenatal care. Then once the baby is born many get no time with the child to breastfeed or bond, some children are automatically put into the child welfare system and sent to foster families.
I’m really glad to see the momentum building in our favor when it comes to the treatment of pregnant women in prison–but let’s remember for a second where these practices come from: they are based on the way men are treated in prison. W0men used to be a rarity in prisons and jails, a trend reversed in recent decades with the war on drugs. When women’s prisons cropped up with more frequency, many of the practices and policies that had applied in men’s prisons were simply transferred to the women.
Should anyone be shackled in prison? Is that a humane way to treat anyone, pregnant or not?
Should men be shackled when transported for court visits or medical procedures? Or women who aren’t pregnant? I don’t want these policy changes to simply be an exception for pregnant women–I want them to encourage us to reconsider how we treat everyone in our criminal “justice” system.
Congrats to everyone in California who worked on this bill year after year!