Department of Corrections Agrees to Place Limits on the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates

ACLU and others lobbied for new rules to protect women during labor and delivery.

Richmond, VA – At a meeting this week with Delegate Patrick Hope and a broad array of advocates for women’s rights, reproductive freedom, prison reform, and health care, the Virginia Department of Corrections announced that it would be adopting new rules banning the use of restraints on female inmates during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery.

The new policy will allow front-end handcuffs, but only during transport of inmates.  Restraints may be used in other circumstances only when a determination is made that the inmate poses a danger to herself or others.  Under any conditions, restraints must be removed if directed by medical staff.

“This is an important and positive first step in protecting incarcerated women who are pregnant,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia, “but it covers only a portion of the targeted population.  Pregnant women in local and regional jails need to be assured of the same protections.”

Delegate Hope introduced HB 1488 in the 2011 General Assembly to restrict the shackling of pregnant inmates, but it was defeated, leading Hope and other proponents of the bill to go directly to DOC to seek reforms.

“With DOC now in the lead, we’re hoping members of the General Assembly will be inclined to pass a bill restricting the use of restraints on any incarcerated pregnant woman anywhere in Virginia,” added ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “If it makes sense for DOC, it also makes sense for local and regional jails. We expect a much better reception from legislators in 2012 than we got in 2011.”

In addition to the ACLU of Virginia, other groups that have joined the effort to restrict shackling are the American Medical Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Virginia Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Legal Aid Justice Center, NARAL Pro-Choice-Virginia, Planned Parenthood-Virginia, VA CURE, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Virginia is joining 14 other states with laws or policies restricting the shackling of pregnant women.

Contacts: Kent Willis or Katherine Greenier, 804-644-8022