The proposed Prison Justice Reform bill (The First Step Act) includes a significant provision prohibiting placing pregnant prisoners in shackles, during labor-birth. Unfortunately, The First Step Act, will apply only to the federal prison system, and not to state and local jails and prisons.
Depending on the jurisdiction, what actually happens to an incarcerated woman giving birth, can be devastating for the mother, and the baby. During the last fifteen years, only twenty one states have enacted regulations restricting shackling during labor and post-delivery recuperation. The American Medical Association in a 2010 resolution called the practice of shackling pregnant inmates unsafe, medically dangerous, and “barbaric.”
Many physicians and nurses actually advocate that shackling pregnant women during any stage of the pregnancy is damaging to the pregnant mothers and their babies. However, shackling during birth is even more dangerous, since the shackling restricts the pregnant mother from moving in order to manage the pains of labor and delivery.
Opponents have argued that a pregnant inmate can try to escape from the hospital before or during labor, and possibly injure a member of the medical staff, during the attempt. Yet, there is no record of inmates in labor trying to escape.
Prison justice reform requires common sense and decency. To paraphrase Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the treatment of pregnant inmates.