Pregnant prisoners can still be shackled during their pregnancy and while in labor in the state of Georgia. Rep. Keisha Waites, a Democrat from metro Atlanta’s southern suburbs, has prefiled a bill to end the practice.
Women are part of a rapidly growing prison population, and about one in ten women prisoners will enter while pregnant. There are so many things wrong with how prisons and jails operate in this country, in general, but pregnant folks (and those that recently gave birth) face particular barriers that prevent them from navigating their pregnancy (and parenting) safely and with dignity.
More than half of states still allow this practice, despite the ban that exists on the federal level, and court rulings that shackling while giving birth is an unconstitutional practice. Several groups, including the ACLU, have even gone to the United Nations about the pervasive use of restraints on pregnant prisoners in the U.S, documenting the practice in an in-depth report.
That report includes the testimony of several women, including Melissa Hall, on the experiences of being shackled while in labor:
“As I was close to delivering my baby, I was in a lot of pain and I was screaming for the nurse…The sheriff didn’t give me any sympathy or any privacy. He left the handcuff shackled to the bed and the leg iron shackled to the stirrup while I was delivering my baby,” Hall said.
LaDonna Hopkins similarly reported on her experiences of giving birth while shackled.
“Birthing my child should have brought joy to me, but instead I remember the alienation and the looks of disgust I got,” Hopkins testified. “No one saw me as a woman – I was hidden away in the last room like someone’s dirty little secret. I have never committed a violent crime – I am minimum security, but I was treated like I was a murderer.”
As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists plainly puts it: “The use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated women and adolescents may not only compromise health care but is demeaning and rarely necessary.”
The medical risks of shackling women while pregnant are numerous. During labor, it is particularly important that women remain unshackled so they can give birth safely and receive optimal care.
“Unfortunately, women and individuals who are incarcerated lack the support to move the conversation forward and shed the light to this practice,” Rep. Waites, the bills sponsor, told the AJC.
House Bill 8 specifically targets shackling while giving birth. It reads:
“The use of individual mechanical restraints, including handcuffs and shackles, on an inmate while she is experiencing labor or during delivery or postdelivery recovery shall be prohibited unless there is a reasonable basis to believe that the use of restraints is necessary to prevent such inmate from injuring herself or others.”
This will be the third legislative session that Rep. Waites has introduced this bill.