Most States Allow Shackling Of Female Prisoners During Labor, Delivery

Most states allow female prisoners to be shackled to a bed while in labor and giving birth.

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are sponsoring the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which would ban the shackling practice in federal prisons.

Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, delivered the baby of a female prisoner and was stunned by the inhumanity of the prison system in America.

Sufrin, who has written a book, Jailcare: Finding The Safety Net for Women Behind Bars, recalled the experience to Mother Jones:

When I was a first-year resident in OB-GYN, doing my training in Pennsylvania, I was on call one night and I delivered the baby of a woman who was shackled to the bed. I was just so taken aback and so disturbed by it—not as much as she was.

It just opened up this whole Pandora’s box. When I got to San Francisco, I sought out the opportunity to do research and to work in the San Francisco jail. I stared doing a volunteer clinic there maybe twice a month. I knew there was something going on when I heard from patients that they hated jail and also that this was the only place where they got care…

There are very clear medical risks involved, which have to do with the need of women to move about freely, both for pain control but also if there’s an emergency. Then there is the common-sense perspective: What is the risk that a woman is a threat to society or a flight risk in between painful contractions? But from the custody side, they see everything as a potential risk that she is going to run off or a risk to public safety.

But that’s all laced with the punitive aspect of chains as well—there’s that subtle, “Well, look what she did to deserve this.” It speaks to the way the system is set up to view incarcerated people as less than human, and to apply the same logic to a pregnant female prisoner that they might to a male prisoner…

In some places they treat her as any other patient and allow a two-day recovery after a vaginal delivery or three to four after a cesarean delivery, but in some places they rush them out of the hospital to get them back to the jail or prison, because having that guard outside her room is extra overtime and an expense for the facility.

It also varies in terms of whether she can [keep] the baby in her room. In many other places she has to be escorted to the nursery to see her baby, and she might have to do that while in chains and shackled, and she might not be given the opportunity to breastfeed, even in the hospital. And then she has to go back to the jail or prison having just given birth, and not with her baby.

(Source: Mother Jones)

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