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March 12, 2019

The ACLU of Virginia asked Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam to amend Senate Bill 1772 (Saslaw) regarding the critical problem of shackling pregnant prisoners. "Placing restraints on a pregnant inmate is inhumane and should never be an option," stated the letter. "Restraints make labor and delivery more painful, make it difficult for doctors to assess the condition of the mother and fetus, and can even get in the way of delivery of medical care."

The ACLU of Virginia is concerned that the bill contains an extremely troubling provision that, if passed, would undo the great progress made by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC)’s regulations. The provision, which ensures protection for correctional staff and others when determining use of restraints, is unnecessary and may directly conflict with the medical needs of pregnant inmates. "Elevating the safety of correctional staff in this context, when they are already in positions of control and power over pregnant inmates, functionally invalidates the concern for the safety and health needs of the inmates, which this bill was initially introduced to address," stated the letter.

Shackling has already been prohibited in federal prisons by the Bureau of Prisons. The VDOC should enact equal, if not stronger, polices to protect pregnant inmates in state-run facilities.

For all the above reasons, the ACLU of Virginia asked Gov. Northam to amend SB 1772 back to its original language, rather than sign it in its current form. The original language includes the necessary comprehensive protections for pregnant inmates while allowing for considerations of flight and security risks when evaluating the use of restraints. As a doctor, Gov. Northam sure can recognize the import of ensuring pregnant prisoners have access to necessary and adequate medical care during pregnancy. Only by amending SB 1772 back to its original language and sign that bill can the governor end this cruel practice in the Commonwealth.

You can read the full letter below.