What will it take to stop shackling women in childbirth?

On January 7, 2020, police in Dayton, Minnesota, in Hennepin County, broke into a home thinking a resident was involved in the purchase of a stolen snowblower. He wasn’t, but no matter. The police broke in. The house was occupied by a couple, both 26 years old, who were expecting the birth of their first child, in two weeks. The man was taken to jail and booked on charges that, after a year and a half, were dropped. The woman was taken, in handcuffs, and dumped in the Hennepin County Jail. There, staff ignored her pleas for help. When she described her excruciating back pains, she was told it was stress. When her waters broke, she had to prove she wasn’t lying, and then she was finally taken to the hospital, a few blocks away. Throughout the transport and most of the delivery, the woman was shackled. She is suing the local police and jail and others for violation of her Constitutional rights as well as denial of medical care. The jail says they take this all very seriously. Of course, they do. You can read the details of the story here. The thing is that, in 2015, Minnesota passed anti-shackling and pregnancy needs laws.

In 2015, Minnesota passed “An act relating to public safety; addressing the needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth”, which opens: “A representative of a correctional facility may not restrain a woman known to be pregnant unless the representative makes an individualized determination that restraints are reasonably necessary for the legitimate safety and security needs of the woman, correctional staff, or public. If restraints are determined to be necessary, the restraints must be the least restrictive available and the most reasonable under the circumstances. A representative of a correctional facility may not restrain a woman known to be pregnant while the woman is being transported if the restraint is through the use of waist chains or other devices that cross or otherwise touch the woman’s abdomen or handcuffs or other devices that cross or otherwise touch the woman’s wrists when affixed behind the woman’s back.” This act was passed unanimously.

At no time did anyone say that the woman in question was a threat or danger or a risk of flight. In fact, she was described by jail records as “cooperative with staff throughout the entire process.”

After a long and arduous labor, the woman gave birth to a healthy child … in a toxic environment. The father remained in jail for days; the traumatized mother went into depression. A month later, U.S. Customs and Immigration rejected her green card application, claiming she had been charged with assault. She had never been charged with assault … or anything else. She was cooperative with staff throughout the entire process.

The woman appealed the rejection and won the appeal.

The thing is that, in 2015 Minnesota passed anti-shackling and pregnancy needs law. In July 2021, the Minnesota legislature debated ending the shackling of juveniles in court. In August, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling that barred the use of handcuffs, shackles, and other restraints on juveniles in court. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, legislatures or courts decided to “prohibit the use of unnecessary restraints” on juveniles in court. The District of Columbia and 31 states prohibit or limit shackling pregnant women. What do these laws and court rulings mean when staff ignore them? What do they mean to those giving birth, their families and communities? As well, what do they tell us about the rule of law? Why do we have a greater investment in shackles and handcuffs than we do in law and justice? What will it take to break the chains, once and for all? It should not be this difficult to stop shackling women in childbirth. I should not be this difficult to stop shackling pregnant women. She was cooperative with the staff throughout the entire process.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Photo Credit: Kare 11)

Welcome to the USA, where we routinely shackle children!

Minnesota lawmakers could end routine shackling of children in court”. Minnesota legislators are currently debating a bill that would end the routine shackling of children in court. You know what routine means? “Acquisition of skills through practice (as opposed to academic study)”. When public defender Sarah Ellsworth greets a client, a ten-year-old child, in shackles, what does she say? “Small steps. It breaks my heart.” The children need to learn that, if you don’t want to fall on your face and your legs and belly and arms are shackled, you must take small steps. Welcome to the United States where this routine is the lesson we teach certain children. 

Up to the present, this routine shackling of children hasn’t been deemed important enough to merit any kind of uniform legislation or guidance. Thus, some counties don’t shackle juveniles, others shackle children at the discretion of the judge, other routinely shackle children. As of July 2019, 32 states including the District of Columbia limited the indiscriminate use of restraints on children in court, but even there the guidelines are fairly inconsistent

So, some counties indiscriminately shackle and some counties … discriminately shackle. Of course, the whole system is based on discrimination, anyway, as a study released earlier this year suggests. The national youth incarceration rate is 138 per 100,000. The rate in Minnesota is 116 per 100,000. At the national level, for every 83 White children incarcerated, 383 Black children are incarcerated. That’s a disparity of 4.61. In Minnesota that looks like this: for every 56 White children incarcerated, 473 Black children are sent behind bars. That’s a disparity of 8.45. That is the eleventh worst in the country (New Jersey has the worst). Nationally, for every 83 White children incarcerated, 118 Latinx are incarcerated. That’s a disparity of 1.42. In Minnesota, for every 56 White children incarcerated, 89 Latinx children are incarcerated, with a disparity of 1.59 (Massachusetts `leads’ the pack in this disparity race to the bottom). In Minnesota, as across the United States, the routine of shackling is the lesson we teach certain children

When Angel Knutsen was 14 years old, she violated probation and `consumed’ something she shouldn’t have. Her ankles and hands were shackled and attached to a chain around her belly, and then she was loaded into a van. She was 14 years old. She never committed anything but petty nonviolent offenses, for which she was in and out of the criminal justice system for five years. During that period, she figures she was shackled 30 times or so. What lesson did this routine teach Angel Knutsen? “I felt a lot of shame.” She also felt the system was telling her she was a bad person who was destined to do bad things, and so she did. Today, at the age of 21, Angel Knutsen is a certified nursing assistant who wants to teach a better lesson, a better routine.

Minnesota has debated a version of this year’s bill every year since 2013. Why is it so difficult to stop shackling children? Why must these bills be debated year in and year out? Even when they’re passed, why is it that, so often, the language is rife with vagueness and loopholes? Stop shackling children. Period. In fact, stop shackling people. Period. This should not be so difficult. Can we not routinely act better towards one another?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Youth Law)

What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley? Just two more deaths in America’s jails

Michelle Bewley

Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley never met each other, and yet they are mirror-image sisters in the wasteland that is the criminal justice system in the United States. Both died, or were killed, in a Clay County Jail. Abby Rudolph died November 3, 2016, in the Clay County Jail, in northwest Minnesota. Michelle Bewley died March 5, 2019 in the Clay County Jail, in northeast Florida. Abby Rudolph was 19 when she died; Michelle Bewley was 35. Both were arrested for shoplifting. Both were addicted; went into withdrawal while in jail; asked, begged, for help. None came, or, better, help was refused. In both cases, the local agency decided the staff was professional and did what they could. In both instances, family, friends and sister inmates disagree. Both Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley died in excruciating agony, begging and pleading for help. Both, in their deaths, became `newsworthy’ in the past couple weeks. This is who we are.

The details for Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley are the same as those for  Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017, Kelly Coltrain, Nevada, 2017. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

On March 4, 2019, Michelle Bewley was picked up for having violated her bond on a shoplifting charge and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. There she went into withdrawal. According to Brittany Wink, who was in a nearby cell, “She was just screaming in pain. You could tell they were pain screams.” This is not a case of “no one came”; it never is. This is a case of they all refused to come. You could tell they were pains screams. Within 24 hours of entering the Clay County Jail, Michelle Bewley was dead … for the crime of having violated her bond. Her cousin, Amanda Snyder, reflected, “She was a very loving, kind person. And she didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this … I love her regardless of the mistakes she has made because that doesn’t define her as a person. Because she was a caring person. She loved her family. And I hope this never happens to anybody else’s family member.” Michelle Bewley leaves behind a husband and a young daughter

In her junior year in high school, Abby Rudolph  suffered a broken hip, which led to using pain medication which led to pain medication addiction. On October 30, 2016, Abby Rudolph, then 19 years old, was arrested for shoplifting and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. Soon after, she begin showing symptoms of withdrawal. Her fellow inmates wrote a note, delivered October 31, 2016, saying that Abby Rudolph was not eating or drinking, was in a bad way, and needed assistance. The inmates said they were worried; the staff refused to respond. On November 1, at 5 am, Abby Rudolph told the staff she could not eat breakfast. The staff did nothing. At that point she began vomiting. She continued to vomit for two days, until November 3. At 2 pm, November 3, the staff “noticed” something. Abby Rudolph was cold to the touch, and the staff took her to the showers. She couldn’t stand on her own, slumped to the floor, became spasmodic, and died within the hour. 

The family has filed a civil lawsuit. Their attorneys argue that the abuse showered on Abby Rudolph exceeds “mere negligence” and shocks “the conscience.” Does it? I ask you, directly, are you shocked? Jill Rudolph, Abby Rudolph’s mother, filled the lawsuit in the early part of 2018. In December 2018, Jill Rudolph, 52 years old, died. Her brother explained, “She died of grief. She could not go on.”

Is your conscience shocked yet? Have we suffered enough grief yet, enough to tell us that, if we want to go on, we have to stop caging and executing women? What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley, in their own private Clay County Jail hellholes? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

Abby Rudolph

(Photo Credit 1: Action News Jax) (Photo Credit 2: City Pages)

Children in torture chambers in schools across the United States

Disturbing reports came out this week that show that children, overwhelmingly children living with disabilities, are kept in solitary confinement across the United States. In some places, the rooms are called “seclusion rooms” and, in other places, “scream rooms.” Call them what they are: solitary confinement, the hole, torture chambers.

Torture is not too grand or extreme a description. Children have committed suicide in these rooms, in schools like the ones around the corner from you. Children have come home with injuries which needed surgery. Often, staff caused these injuries. Across the country, children, and their parents, live with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The list goes on.

This is part of a national war on children. The incarceration and torture of children in schools occurs at a time when girls are being sent to jail for status offenses while boys are not. Taken together, this is the national policy of protection for children, for children with special needs, and for girls. And if you’re a girl with special needs, you’re in trouble. We have traveled far, and quickly, from the days of “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

At the national level, the only shock here are the numbers, which are assumed to be lower than the actual incidences, and the shock, the fact that, despite report after report after report after report, each report is `surprising’. Amnesia has always been the alibi for the citizens of the Torture State. It allows us to forget that our elected representatives killed legislation that would end the policy of school-based solitary confinement. It allows us to forget that some places in the country, like Montgomery County, Virginia, have done away seclusion rooms and replaced them with healthier, more reliable systems that actually work. It allows us to forget both evidence and hope.

So as not to forget, here’s a story, taken from a US Senate staff report issued this past February. The report finds such cases occur across the country. Minnesota is an instance, not an exception:

Minnesota: In January 2004, an eight-year-old girl began attending Jefferson Elementary School in the Willmar Public School District. Her mother described her as a `little girl who loved to go to school, even though the child had been diagnosed with a communication disorder and designated as developmentally delayed with speech and language impairment at age three.

“Since kindergarten, the girl’s IEP had included a behavioral intervention plan that authorized the use of restraints and seclusions when she exhibited certain behaviors. Eventually, the school district and her mother had the child assessed by an outside evaluator, who did not recommend the use of restraints or seclusions. However, the techniques remained in the girl’s behavioral intervention plan during the 2005 to 2006 school year. The mother said she had agreed to the use of seclusion, in an area the school called a `quiet room,’ only if necessary. However, some reports indicate the girl’s teacher secluded her forty-four times in one school year.102 The girl’s mother also said the teacher made the child sit at a `thinking desk’ perfectly still for thirty minutes straight and demeaned and belittled the child when she could not hold this posture. If the girl fidgeted or made any noise, her teacher would yell at her and sometimes put her into restraints, including a prone hold.103 During one incident in April 2006, the teacher forced the girl into the seclusion room while she was on her way to the bathroom, causing the child to urinate on herself.

“Aides reported that the teacher’s classroom, which was somewhat hidden in the basement of Jefferson, was `more a punishment/torture area than a classroom,’ and `run very much like a secret room that you are not supposed to talk about.’”

Suffer the children for of such is the kingdom of heaven.


(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)