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33 States Allow Shackling of Pregnant Inmates During Labor



33 out of 50 is a failing grade for the United States. The American Medical Association in a 2010 resolution called the practice of shackling pregnant inmates unsafe, medically dangerous, and “barbaric.” Many physicians and nurses assert that shackling pregnant inmates during any stage of the pregnancy is damaging to the pregnant mothers and their babies. Shackling restricts the pregnant mother from moving in order to manage the pains of labor and birth. Shackling can aggravate birthing risks which include: pre-eclampsia (a condition causing a pregnant woman to have high blood pressure), premature birth, and increased risk of falls that could seriously injure the fetus.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced recently a number of proposals to change the prison system including prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation. With these proposed changes in Massachusetts, the number of states allowing shackling during birth will change from 33 to 32 – still a failing grade for our society. Prior to Gov. Patrick’s proposal, Massachusetts state prisons did not allow shackling during the birth process, but the new proposal would ban shackling during birth in all of the local county prisons and jails.

Opponents argue that a pregnant inmate could try to escape and injure a member of the medical staff during the attempt. However, states that have restricted shackling of pregnant prisoners do not have any documented record of women in labor trying to escape and causing harm to the public, security guards, or medical staff.

There is no excuse or reason for shackling a pregnant inmate during labor and birth. It is time for every state to ban shackling pregnant inmates. It is time to wipe this stain from the American record.

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Anne PrattMartine Herzog-EvansPrisonPath Recent comment authors
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Martine Herzog-Evans

This is beyond disgusting! Not only is it inhumane and dangerous (these guys have never heard of the impact of stress hormones on delivery, not to mention that hips have to open up properly – bad enough that hospitals force women onto their backs, which is probably the worst physiologically possible position of all to give birth safely), but it also is plain stupid. Don’t want to offend gentlemen here but clearly these rules must have been written by men or women who never gave birth! Who in his right mind can imagine that a woman would have the resource… Read more »

Martine Herzog-Evans

May I add that this despicable practice still existed in France – although rarely – until a prison law of 2009 when it was banned by law (Prison Act, Nov 24, 2009, article 52).

Anne Pratt

I’m pleased you are publicizing this issue. I live in Massachusetts, and it appears we are finally emerging from the Dark Ages on this issue. My thoughts go out to any imprisoned pregnant woman who lives in the other 32 states; what a shame. And more than a shame, a human rights violation.