Poor Regulation Means Prisons are still Handcuffing Pregnant Women During Labor

by Gwen Berumen

21 states have signed bills that deem it illegal to handcuff women while in labor and immediately after; however, correctional officers have taken on their own measures to “protect” citizens from these offenders. Despite what doctors have called life-threatening to both mother and child, women are still routinely shackled during and immediately after labor.

A New York Times article written by Audrey Quinn depicts this as regular part of the birthing process in prison. The New York State Correctional Association spoke to 27 women who had given birth in New York since the 2009 law was put in place, and 23 had been shackled before, during, or after the delivery.

The law was passed because, “New York State recognized that these practices are an affront to human rights and decency,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the Women in Prison Project at the New York State Correctional Association. Other states are following suit and passing similar laws against inhumane treatment. 

In some places, however, the mishandling of female prisoners continues. In Nevada, Valerie Nabors was kept in ankle shackles until a nurse in the delivery room insisted they be taken off. Ten minutes after the prisoner’s emergency c-section, she was re-handcuffed to the bed, despite still being under the effects of her administered medication. As a result of the shackling, Nabors suffered from several pulled muscles in her groin and the separation of her pubic bones. For over two weeks, she could not walk properly.

While prisons (particularly private ones) are not known for their amazing treatment of women, it is unacceptable to continue a practice that both Democrat and Republican politicians, doctors and the prisoners themselves condemn. Additionally, a pregnant inmate has never escaped during labor, so this precaution is no longer an acceptable excuse. 

Oftentimes, prison staff are not properly notified when a law change occurs. This oversight hinders the safety and appropriate treatment of women in labor in many prisons across the country. Officials need to be more proactive and take responsibility for their inmates, especially those who are about to give birth. This kind of ignorance and/or corruption should not take a toll on the lives of incarcerated women and babies.

Danyell Williams, a former doula for prisoners in Philadelphia, stated that, “these laws were passed and everybody patted themselves on the back for doing what was right and human and then went on about their business. But there’s no policing entity that’s really going to hold these institutions responsible.” There should be something or someone that holds prison officials accountable for the safety of pregnant women in their care, especially when the balance of power is not in favor of the mothers. Since women are the fastest-growing prison population in the United States, and many are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, it is crucial that these negligent practices are stopped and women are given the care and respect they deserve when they give birth. 


Photos via scpr.org and The Sentencing Project. 

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