Despite Laws, Inmates are Still Shackled While Giving Birth

Illustration for article titled Despite Laws, Inmates are Still Shackled While Giving Birth

In 2009, New York state passed legislation banning the use of restraints (shackles, handcuffs, etc.) for female inmates during labor and postpartum recovery. But despite the law's passage, a report by the Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice advocacy organization, found a sizable percentage of pregnant and recovering inmates are still shackled.


According to The Guardian, the group "interviewed over 950 women in prison, including 27 who gave birth after the anti-shackling law went into effect." The Correctional Association of New York also found that a significant number of women were shackled while pregnant - a practice that "falls between the cracks remaining an issue largely ignored by the broader reproductive rights movement and neglected by prisoner rights organizing."

The practice of shackling, however, seems to be part of a broader problem of how pregnancy and reproductive health are treated within the prison system. Overall, women's access to reproductive care in prison is "woefully substandard."

The Guardian reports:

In addition to the extensive use of shackling in violation of the 2009 law, it also found a lack of oversight of reproductive health care, poor conditions of confinement for pregnant women, unfair rejections of women from the prison's nursery program, inadequate access to gynecological care, substandard medical treatment, insufficient supplies of feminine hygiene products and toilet paper, severely limited access to contraception, and poor access to gynecological care, including privacy violations for women placed in solitary confinement.

The Guardian's whole story is worth reading, they've interviewed women who were shackled during birth and postpartum recovery. The stories are both harrowing and important - they speak to the broader issue of coercion and the rights and care of prisoners. They're also an important reminder of the broader net that conversations about reproductive rights and care needs to cast.

Image via Daniel DeSlover/Shutterstock.



A few weeks ago, I was discussing a similar topic with some coworkers of mine.

These are experienced labor and delivery nurses who are all very well educated and read. One of them is a prison nurse as a second job.

Not a single one of them knew that (in at least a few places) it was illegal and a human rights violation to shackle a pregnant, laboring, delivering and post partum person. We are in NJ, so it's not like this is that far removed from us. They all agreed that it would be very inconvenient (for us) to have a patient be shackled, but not a single one of them understood why it was a violation of the pregnant inmate's rights as laboring person to have uninhibited free range of motion for all four limbs before and during labor and after. Just...MIND. BLOWN. I'm not at all surprised that people don't take this issue very seriously.

Honestly, just forgetting the emotional and mental toll of shackling for a second, I can't even imagine how DANGEROUS this is during labor. There are times when the new proto-human demands that we flip their suddenly inhospitable apartment from side to side (insert medical science). There are times when we need to change beds and quickly transfer a patient to the OR for a stat c-section. What do they do when they need to sit up over the side of the bed for an epidural or spinal? Is pain relief just not a thing for inmates? The practice of cuffing even one hand to the bed would lead to a broken arm/wrist or else the inability to change positions as medically indicated for various procedures and interventions, some of which are absolutely VITAL.

The world is a very frustrating place...