New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law Tuesday that bans correctional facilities from shackling or handcuffing pregnant people. A ban on shackling incarcerated women in labor was passed in 2009; the new law will make it illegal to shackle women at any point while pregnant, in labor, in transport to the hospital, or in the first eight weeks postpartum.
The new bill was created by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit criminal justice policy advocacy group. The law will expand the protections of the 2009 one: it stipulates that pregnant inmates can’t be shackled except under “extraordinary” circumstances, and correctional officers are prohibited from being in the delivery room during labor unless medical staff specifically requests it. It will also require yearly reports from correctional facilities about every time they shackled a pregnant person, and why they deemed it necessary.
The Correctional Association found in February that correctional institutions were still routinely shackling pregnant inmates; 23 of 27 women surveyed who had given birth in custody in the state were shackled while giving birth or in postpartum recovery. Some women recounted experiences like being shackled for hours while experiencing contractions, or being put in waist chains immediately postpartum, after they’d given birth via C-section.
Shackling during pregnancy and labor is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who all say shackles can interfere with pregnant women’s medical care and increases their chances of falling, injuring themselves or their fetus. Yet only 18 states specifically prohibit or restrict using restraints on pregnant inmates.
If you wonder at this point who could possibly support shackling a pregnant person, the answer would be the New York State Sheriff’s Association, whose director dismissed the proposal in July as political correctness run amok:
Peter Kehoe, the director of the state Sheriffs Association, said the new legislation that has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo represents an unfunded mandate on counties and will create more bureaucratic work for the sheriff’s departments across the state. He said the legislation was never presented to law enforcement executives before it was acted upon by lawmakers.
“We are asking the governor not to sign it,” Kehoe told The Daily Star. “The bill was obviously written by someone who knows nothing about operating a correctional facility. It was based on PC (political correctness) principles, instead of good common sense. There is nothing about a pregnant female — two months, or three months or six months pregnant — that makes her less dangerous than someone who is not pregnant.”
In a press release, Soffiyah Elijah, the Correctional Association’s Executive Director, said the bill is necessary to end what she called a “barbaric” practice: “The criminal justice system must always acknowledge the humanity and dignity of the people involved and this law will help to codify that for pregnant women.”
Correctional Association members protesting against shackling in 2009. Screengrab via YouTube/VideoCANY