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Shackling Pregnant Inmates Banned Under California Law, But Many States Allow The Practice

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PREGNANT SHACKLES
A new bill passed into law in California prohibits prisons from shackling pregnant inmates. According to ABC News, in two out of three states, pregnant inmates can be shackled while giving birth. | Alamy

On Sept. 28, a new bill was passed into law in California, making the state one of the first in the country to completely ban the practice of shackling pregnant inmates during pregnancy, labor, delivery and recovery.

Alicia Walters, a reproductive justice advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, writes:

In 2005 California became one of the first states to prohibit the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor, delivery, and recovery after childbirth. Now, we can proudly say that California has taken another step forward to protect the health of incarcerated women -– this time by prohibiting shackling throughout pregnancy.

Under the new law, California prisons will no longer be allowed to use "leg irons, waist chains and handcuffs behind the body on women who are pregnant or who are in recovery following the birth of a child unless deemed necessary for the safety of the inmate, the staff, or the public." The bill also requires that "shackles be removed for emergency medical treatment."

However, in two out of three states, pregnant inmates can be shackled to their hospital beds while giving birth.

According to ABC News, the practice is permissible in 33 states, even when pregnant inmates are "being held exclusively for immigration-related offenses." Incarcerated women can also be shackled throughout their pregnancy.

"Pregnant women in correctional facilities are more likely to experience miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, and low birth weight infants, all of which seriously jeopardize the health of the mother and, in many cases, her newborn," Toni Atkins, the assembly member who introduced the new legislation in California, said in a press release. "Shackling increases these risks by causing women to fall and by making emergency medical care more difficult to administer."

While Atkins' bill has been touted as a "victory" for incarcerated women, Jezebel writes that it also serves to highlight the compromising prison conditions for pregnant women.

"The fact that the Golden State is in the minority makes it all the more obvious that prisons are ill-equipped to deal with female inmates," Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker writes.

ABC notes that while states like Texas, Vermont and Colorado "also have laws that discourage the practice of shackling female inmates during labor, most states still don't have such regulations on the books."

Even in Illinois, where anti-shackling laws exist, a class-action lawsuit filed by 80 female inmates earlier this year claimed they were shackled during birth and recovery. The women were ultimately granted a $4.1 million settlement, ABC reports.

Shackling is also not limited to convicted criminals. In 2011, Cristina Costantini (then an editor for The Huffington Post) reported that undocumented women who crossed the border illegally had been put into shackles during the birthing process.

"Pregnant women are the most vulnerable and the least threatening in the prison system and should rarely, if ever, be restrained," Walters wrote on the ACLU website following the passage of California's new law.

What do you think of the practice of shackling pregnant mothers who are imprisoned? Tell us in the comments below.

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