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Pregnant Inmates Shackled During Labor




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 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.

However, even the record of states with restrictions is blemished. Many of the jails and prisons do not follow the rules and do not have well defined written policies about shackling pregnant inmates giving birth. In 2012, Valerie Nabors filed a claim against the state of Nevada for injuries that she suffered from shackling during labor. Despite the banning of shackles during labor in Nevada, the officers handcuffed and shackled her during transit to the hospital.  An ambulance supervisor protested that the restraints were dangerous since it prevented access for any emergency. At the hospital, a delivery room nurse insisted on the removal of the shackles for an emergency Cesarean section. The officers finally consented, but ten minutes after birth, once again Valerie Nabors was shackled. Ms. Nabor’s physicians found that injuries of pubic bones separation and pulled groin muscles were caused by her shackles. Ms. Nabors received a settlement of $130,000. Ms. Nabors was incarcerated for a minor nonviolent offense.

In 2012, despite restrictions against restraints for pregnant women during labor in New York, Ms. Mcdougall, was shackled for her return to the prison although she had an emergency cesarean section, and had required a blood transfusion. Handcuffs were attached tightly to a chain around her stomach. A recent survey of twenty seven women who gave birth while incarcerated in New York revealed that twenty three were either shackled before, during, or after giving birth.

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 or after labor. It is time for every state not only to ban, but enforce the restrictions prohibiting shackling pregnant inmates during and after labor.It is time to wipe this ugly stain from the American record.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of

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Philip Rule

If I may offer a perspective from Britain: when transporting offenders for medical purposes, and indeed when defendants appear in court, there must always be a justification for handcuffs individual to the offender. For instance dangerous violent offenders may require handcuffs when others would not, but even a violent offender must be shown to require handcuffs so where medically incapacitated to present a risk, or where behaviour does not warrant it perhaps, it may still be unlawful to handcuff a prisoner. In the case of a childbirth delivery when detained in a hospital room with prison guards in attendance it… Read more »