Advocates supporting HB 836 release stories of incarcerated pregnant women who were shackled during pregnancy, labor, delivery and post-partum recovery in facilities in Northern Virginia.Richmond, VA– A broad and diverse coalition representing faith-based organizations, women’s rights advocates, and prison reform groups are urging uniform standards regarding the use of restraints on pregnant inmates at state, regional, local, and juvenile correctional facilities in the Commonwealth.
“Preventing shackling is a sound policy for Virginia. It’s cruel and unusual punishment—in violation of the Virginia and federal constitutions—to shackle a pregnant woman during labor and delivery,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia. “Applying such restraints demonstrates a deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious medical needs, and runs counter to long-established Supreme Court precedent protecting prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights.”
“Until legislative change is made in an effort to protect the health and dignity of the incarcerated mother and her fetus, pregnant prisoners will face the possibility of unnecessary and dangerous health risks, degrading treatment, and little accountability will be placed on correctional institutions,” added Greenier.
Last summer, the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) reported that its existing policy for the transport of pregnant inmates only authorizes the use of handcuffs. In conversations with advocates, the DOC expanded its policy to further protect women during pregnancy. While the use of restraints even during transport presents health and safety issues for the woman and child, the DOC policy is a more forward thinking public health policy.
Although DOC has ensured that pregnant inmates in state prisons are more protected, local and regional jails in Virginia are not subject to the DOC policy. Local jail policies vary by locality and do not always include the protections required for the health and safety of a pregnant inmate and her fetus.
The coalition has released stories gathered from women inside Virginia’s correctional facilities who experienced the use of restraints while pregnant, and in labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. These stories, gathered through interviews with inmates at visits to three local detention centers in Northern Virginia, shed light on the need for legislation.
Virginia’s proposed legislation, HB 836, will give facilities and officers discretion to use restraints if a determination is made that the inmate is a flight risk or a danger to herself or others. Additionally, the use of soft handcuffs on pregnant inmates will be authorized during transport. Provisions in the bill for documenting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates will provide transparency and ensure compliance.
Fourteen states have laws prohibiting or restricting the shackling of pregnant prisoners. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the American Correctional Association have all adopted policies to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners. Further, national medical associations oppose the shackling of pregnant women because it is unnecessary and dangerous.
Restricting the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners does not jeopardize the safety of correctional or medical staff. Among the states that have restricted shackling of pregnant inmates, none have documented instances of women in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, the public, security guards, or medical staff.
Organizations opposing the shackling of pregnant inmates include the ACLU of Virginia, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Virginia Council of Churches, The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, The Family Foundation, Virginia Catholic Conference, Legal Aid Justice Center, Friends of Guest House, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants-Virginia Inc., Grassroots Leadership, Social Action Linking Together, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, and the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project.
The stories collected by anti-shackling advocates can be found online at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/20120207ShacklingStories.pdf
ACLU of Virginia Contacts:
Katherine Greenier or Kent Willis, (804) 644-8022