New York Prisons are Illegally Shackling Inmates During Labor, Harrowing Report Finds

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From Think Progress:

The controversial practice of shackling pregnant inmates — which major medical associations have condemned as “hazardous” and “barbaric” — is increasingly falling out of favor. States have pushed forward to ban it, and U.S. lawmakers have worked to prevent shackling in immigration detention centers.

But having a ban on the books doesn’t necessarily mean that prisons have actually ended the practice. A new report from the Women in Prison Project provides the latest evidence that states simply aren’t following through in this area.

According to that report, officials in New York prisons continue to illegally shackle pregnant inmates while they’re giving birth, despite the fact that the practice was outlawed in 2009. After surveying nearly 950 incarcerated women, researchers found that, among the 27 participants who gave birth after the shackling ban was passed, 23 of them were still restrained at some point during their labor or delivery. They described their experiences as “painful,” “horrible,” and “degrading.”

When women are shackled during or after childbirth, their movement is restricted by handcuffs and ankle restraints. They are typically chained directly to the bed where they are laboring, even though there’s no evidence of female prisoners attempting to escape during childbirth. Most women behind bars are nonviolent offenders and don’t pose a security risk to guards, particularly while giving birth.

The medical community firmly opposes shackling because it’s essential for women to have mobility during labor. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the practice exacerbates health hazards for pregnancies that are often already medically risky. “Minor forces may be sufficient to shear the placental attachments and increase the risk of a placental abruption after blunt abdominal trauma,” the group notes.

One female prisoner, who was shackled on her return trip to prison after having an emergency C-section in 2012, told the New York Times that the weight of her handcuffs on her stomach “felt like they were ripping open my C-section.”

Another formerly incarcerated women said she was shackled throughout her entire childbirth experience in 2010. On a press call to announce the findings of the report on Thursday, she told reporters that she was cuffed to the bed and unable to sit up, even as her daughter was moving through the birth canal. Maria Caraballo, who has since become an advocate for women in prison, said she remained shackled while she was being stitched up post-delivery. Read the full story here.