PA lawmakers consider ban on shackling pregnant prisoners

    Women’s health advocates in Philadelphia are behind a bill that would give inmates giving birth a little more freedom.

    Women’s health advocates in Philadelphia are behind a bill that would give inmates giving birth a little more freedom.

    The proposal would ban the practice of shackling prisoners who are in labor or giving birth, unless there are unusual security risks.

    Delaware County Democrat Senator Daylin Leach sponsored the bill. He says most prisoners are restrained in leg and arm cuffs when they are transported to medical appointments.

    Leach: There’s good reasons for that, but there’s not an exception for women who are about to give birth or giving birth, and as a result, women who are in such a situation have been shackled during the birth process even, which has resulted in injuries, which has resulted in a lot of indignity and pain for women, so we wanted to stop that practice.

    In 2008, when labor coaches began assisting incarcerated women in Philadelphia, advocates from the Maternity Care Coalition persuaded the city corrections department to change its policy and unshackle women during active labor.

    The state proposal goes further and requires that women are unshackled during any stage of delivery and during medical appointments.

    The bill has cleared the Senate and is set for a House vote in July.

    Carol Tracy leads the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia.

    Tracy: When outsiders came in and said: ‘My God, what’s going on here.’ It raised the advocacy level because most people, in the outside community, didn’t know that this was taking place.

    Some experts say keeping women in shackles can delay medical care in an emergency. And supporters say restraining women in arm and leg cuffs prevents prisoners from adjusting their body to deal with labor pains.

    Six states have already banned the practice and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes shackling.

    Leach says he worked with corrections officials to craft a bill that also works for them.

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