Washington state anti-shackling bill signed by Governor

Via Seattle Times:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a bill that will forbid state prisons, county jails and juvenile correctional facilities from shackling nearly all female inmates who are in labor or recovering from labor.

The law, which goes into effect June 10, also bans the use of waist chains and leg irons at any point in pregnancy and limits restraints on pregnant inmates who are being transported during their third trimester of pregnancy.


Despite ban, shackling of incarcerated women continues in Pennsylvania

More news on the shackling front. The good news is that this horrific practice is finally getting some much needed media attention. The bad news is that it still happens, despite policy changes that are meant to eradicate the practice.

Philadelphia Weekly has an in-depth article about one woman’s experience being shackled during labor for over 17 hours. She even has scars on her ankles to prove it.

I was happy to see that she had a doula with her, who tried to get the shackles taken off, to no avail.

The descriptions of Torres’ experience are really horrific. I admire her courage for telling her story, with the hope that it will never happen again.

Being shackled during labor was just one of many dehumanizing moments Torres says she endured: When she was transported outside of the prison, a chain was wrapped two times around her body, just below her breasts and above her stomach, and then placed into a lockbox where her wrists were secured with handcuffs. A confident and careful speaker, Torres intermittently pauses to reflect on her story’s implications. “The squatting and the coughing [to search for hidden drugs and weapons]… I did even at nine months pregnant.”

These stories just further reveal a truth that many of us ignore–the dehumanizing and unjust practices of the criminal justice system. It isn’t just pregnant women who need to be treated better in prison.

In reaction to stories like these, a PA legislator, Senator David Leach, has introduced legislation to ban the practice.

The article also highlights the amazing work of three doulas working at Riverside Correctional Facility. I’ve been seeing an increasing number of doulas looking to work with incarcerated women as folks reveal the conditions that women often labor under. This program is even staffed by paid doulas–the other programs I know are volunteer.

Danyell Williams sleeps with her cell phone like a doctor with her omnipresent pager. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native and her three staff members—all trained doulas—are each on call for two weeks every other month, rushing to the hospital when they get word of an impending birth. Over last year’s Fourth of July weekend, Williams worked through 23 sleepless hours of labor.

MOMobile’s program at Riverside is groundbreaking. “We’re one of the only ones in the country,” says Williams. Since the beginning of the doula program in November 2006, MOMobile has attended 42 births.

The doulas are the only intimate human contact that jailed women have while giving birth. “When you’re incarcerated, the only people allowed in are security staff and MOMobile,” says Williams.

The good news of all of this is that there has been little opposition to legislation looking to ban the practice. The challenge comes with the bureaucracy of the prisons and the chain of command that often ignores legislation and procedural changes.

Read the whole piece here.

Thanks to New Voices Pittsburgh and La’Tasha Mayes for the link.

Washington State: Only 30% of incarcerated women are shackled during labor

The Superintendent of the Corrections Center for Women (the only one in WA state that houses pregnant women) said 30% of women are shackled during labor in a recent MSNBC article.

Only 30%?! Wow, how nice of them.

Bills have been introduced in the Washington State House and Senate that would outlaw the inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery. The laws would prevent the use of any types of restraints on pregnant women who are incarcerated.

Let’s hope this law passes, so 30% can become zero.

Thanks to Peggy at Open Arms for the heads up!

More victories for pregnant incarcerated women

Yesterday, a victory from the folks at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

This case is pretty horrific. You can see more about Nelson’s story in the RH Reality Check video above. More info:

On Friday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit (the federal level appellate court that reviews decisions from federal district courts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Arkansas) issued the long-awaited decision in Nelson v. Norris. In this case, Shawanna Nelson argued that being forced to go through the final stages of labor with both legs shackled to her hospital bed was cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. She argued that she should be allowed to sue the director of the prison and the guard who repeatedly re-shackled her legs to the bed. Ms. Nelson, an African-American woman, was incarcerated for non-violent offenses of credit card fraud and “hot checks.”

The idea of shackling any person during labor is abominable, but in this case the one argument for the practice is bunk. The only argument I can think of (which I definitely don’t agree with) is that an incarcerated person could be “dangerous” and therefore need to be restrained, even while giving birth. It’s ludicrous for even the most “violent” of criminals, let alone a woman like Nelson, who was incarcerated for CREDIT CARD FRAUD. Absurd.

Continue reading

Belated Mother’s Day Post

I hope all you mother’s out there enjoyed this weekend. I recently joined an anti-shackling coalition spearheaded by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights (shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth, that is). They have been putting out some great materials, including this op-ed, for mother’s day. From the piece:

In most state prisons and jails, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women, including when they are in labor and when they deliver their babies. Only three states — California, Illinois and Vermont — have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. In the other 47 states and the District of Columbia, no such laws exist. The use of restraints on pregnant women, particularly on women in labor and giving birth, constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading practice that rarely can be justified in terms of security concerns during the delivery process. In the three states that outlawed shackling pregnant inmates, there have been no cases of mothers in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, security guards or medical staff.

I’m very excited to be part of this coalition and hope to keep all the RD readers updated on their work.

Campaign to highlight incarcerated moms

This card was sent out near Mother’s Day, but I thought I would share it now. The campaign was organized by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, with a lot of other organizational partners.

The card was sent to legislators in Washington, DC. Here’s the main text of the card:GIVING BIRTH IN SHACKLES: ONE MOTHER’S STORY

In September 2000, the state of Ohio sentenced Arnita to sixty months at the Franklin County Correctional Center in Columbus, Ohio forconspiracy to distribute, a nonviolent drug offense. Nine months afterarriving in prison, Arnita gave birth to her son, Waki. Waki was born inshackles. Federal Marshals placed shackles on Arnita when she lefther cell to travel to the hospital, and these shackles were notremoved until she returned to the correctional facility two dayslater. During Arnita’s C-section, her leg was in metal shackles, chainedto the bed. Arnita remembers the attending physician asking theMarshal, “Do you really have to keep these shackles on?” The Marshalresponded, “Yes, it’s procedure.” Arnita stated that “during my two-daystay at the hospital, the handcuffs were always on, even when I went to the bathroom.”


Ending the cruel practice of shackling pregnant women in labor and childbirth is a Mother’s Day gift that we can give to honor all mothers and their struggles, to ensure that women give birth with safety, and to allow all our children to come into the world safe, healthy and with dignity. Please support the effort to end this cruel practice in our federal and state prisons.