By Aisha Huertas Michel, Director, Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project
Humanity is not checked at the prison gate. Yet, in Virginia’s local and regional jails, no rules currently prevent restraining pregnant inmates during labor, delivery, and post partum recovery. To the extent that restraints are being used, this unnecessary, inhumane, and dangerous practice puts the health and safety of the woman and her child at risk. Fortunately, the Board of Corrections earlier this month approved final regulations that, while not perfect, will create uniform rules across Virginia’s local and regional jails governing the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. We thank the Board of Corrections members for their support. While, under the Administrative Process Act, the regulations should now move to the final step of the administrative process, publication in the Virginia Register for a thirty day final adoption period, we are concerned that the regulations will be tied up for an indefinite period as the Governor’s office conducts an unnecessary and unauthorized post-adoption review, thus placing pregnant inmates and infants at risk.
Under Virginia law, the final regulations should be published as soon as possible in the Virginia Register and go into effect automatically 30 days after publication (unless another effective date is specified in the rules), unless the Governor requests additional public comment or acts to suspend their implementation. Nonetheless, it is likely that the regulations will instead be sent to the Governor for further review, a step not authorized or required under the Virginia Administrative Process Act, and that this further review will delay implementation for an indefinite and extended period.
Virginia should not delay these humanitarian and common sense regulations. If the threat to human dignity and safety is not enough to move the process forward, the costly legal settlements paid by taxpayers in states like Illinois and Tennessee, due to the inhumane use of restraints on pregnant inmates, should provide motivation to move through the regulatory process without further delay. It is time for Virginia to join the growing list of states protecting incarcerated women against this inhumane, dangerous, and unnecessary treatment in all correctional facilities, whether state, regional, or local.
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