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.
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