New law bans shackling of incarcerated women in labor

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“I went into labor at 5 in the morning,” said Venita Pinckney, who was taken from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility to a hospital for her son’s birth last November.

“At 6 in the morning, waiting for trip officers to take me to Westchester medical, I was shackled at the ankles and wrists, with a black box on top of handcuffs, and they put waist restraints around my stomach twice. We didn’t leave the facility until 8 in the morning. I didn’t get to the hospital until 9. I was still in those handcuffs, restraints, shackles and black box.

Where was I going in labor? Where could I have moved to, where could I have gone while in labor?

Hands raised shackling protest photo

Activists from the Coalition for Women Prisoners donned pregnancy bellies and shackles at a rally in support of the Anti-Shackling Bill.

Venita was one of the formerly incarcerated women who bravely shared their experiences at a series of public demonstrations outside of Governor David Paterson’s office this summer in support of the Anti-Shackling Bill.

The Anti-Shackling Bill passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the Assembly on May 20. The legislation forbids the use of shackles and restraints on incarcerated women during labor, childbirth, and post-delivery recovery, and restricts the use of restraints during transport to and from the hospital.

Throughout the summer, advocates held public demonstrations aimed at pressing the Governor to sign the bill into law.

Supporters were pleased and honored when Governor Paterson made a surprise appearance at an August 18 rally and explained to the crowd that he would sign the legislation.

Tamar confronts Governor Paterson

Tamar Kraft-Stolar of the Women in Prison Project confronts then-Governor Paterson outside his office, urging him to sign the bill into law.

“We commend Governor Paterson for taking this important step to end the inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated women in labor,” says Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project.

“This law moves New York one step closer to making sure that women in prison are treated with dignity and compassion.”

Among those at the August 18 demonstration were women who had given birth while shackled; Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblymember N. Nick Perry, the bill’s sponsors; and dozens of other advocates.

“We greatly appreciate Senator Montgomery and Assemblymember Perry’s leadership in ensuring that women in prison are treated humanely, says Serena Alfieri of the Women in Prison Project.

“We’re proud to have partnered with them and with Women On the Rise Telling HerStory, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Aid Society, Hour Children, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and so many other organizations and individuals on this critical piece of legislation.”

The Correctional Association and the Women in Prison Project extend a very special thank you to the many women who were courageous enough to talk about their experiences with childbirth in prison. It is in large part because of their willingness to speak up—to make sure the lawmakers and the public understood what was really going on—that this law is now a reality.

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