Will Ohio stop shackling pregnant women prisoners?

Yesterday, October 9, 2019, Ohio’s Statehouse News Bureau reported, “The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved changes to a bill, SB18, that would ban prison guards from shackling pregnant inmates. The amended legislation would eliminate the practice for an entire pregnancy instead of just the third trimester, which was the original proposal.” The primary sponsors of this bill are Nickie Antonio, Democrat; and Peggy Lehner, Republican. Speaking of shackling pregnant women prisoners, Nickie Antonio noted, “I think it’s harsh. It really comes up against ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment when a woman’s pregnant to do that. To move her from place to place … All of the practice and policies in the department of corrections, originated for male prisoners. There was not consideration of women in jail, in prison.” 

Last year, when she was still a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Nickie Antonio sponsored a similar bill. That bill was co-sponsored by eight Democrats. No Republicans supported the bill, and, after one hearing, it died … or, better, was killed. Elections matter. Thus far, in the Ohio Senate, no one has testified against the proposal. When Nickie Antonio sponsored the new bill in the Senate, she explained that when she first heard of the practice from Maureen Sweeney, a nurse in Ohio, she thought, “It’s barbaric, it’s humiliating for the woman.”

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice in Ohio? “No one tracks how many pregnant inmates are shackled in Ohio so it’s impossible to know how common the practice is. Women who were restrained often don’t want to talk about the experience. But more and more women are entering Ohio’s jails and prisons – an increase driven by drug-related offenses.” No one knows because those in charge don’t care.

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice across the United States? Although the United States is home to 4% of the world’s female population, it houses over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women (this does not include women in immigrant detention centers). Women’s incarceration in the United States is at an all-time high. Incarcerated women are disproportionately located in local jails, and a large proportion are awaiting trial. For pregnant women, this means those who have not been convicted of anything are thrown into facilities where the staffs are untrained and unprepared to make any kind of informed decisions concerning pregnancy or childbirth. The women may be formally innocent until proven guilty, but as pregnant women they have been condemned.

For pregnant women behind bars, the State of Condemnation is a State of Abandonment. As noted by Carolyn Sufrin, the lead author of Pregnancy Outcomes in US Prisons, 2016–2017a groundbreaking study published earlier this year, “There are barely any data, aside from a 2004 survey, on prison pregnancy rates. The only publicly available statistics about prison births are from a 1999 report. And there is no systematic information, not even outdated data, about miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, maternal deaths or other pregnancy outcomes in prison. This is a profound omission. Women who don’t count don’t get counted. And women who don’t get counted don’t count. This lack of statistics shows just how little we care for incarcerated pregnant people.”

How usual is the cruel and humiliating practice of shackling pregnant women across the United States? On one hand, who cares? No one in charge. On the other hand, little by little, more and more states, like Ohio, are moving forward. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG, “32 states currently restrict the use of restraints for limited duration, but few states broadly restrict the practice throughout pregnancy and postpartum.” Thirteen states “broadly restrict restraints throughout pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, including transport to a medical facility”: California, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. That list was published in June 2019. Since then, Georgia passed the Georgia Dignity Act, which bans the shackling of pregnant and postpartum women. Formerly incarcerated women, led by Pamela Winn, a formerly incarcerated woman who had experienced the horror of being shackled in childbirth, pushed and testified, until the legislature’s walls came tumbling down.

Across the United States, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their supporters reject the logic of “women are America’s fast-growing segment of prisoners”, a logic that says that the cruelty and horror visited upon their bodies and selves is merely a consequence of the gendered mathematics of the American decades long experiment in mass incarceration. They say that dignity for women is justice for women; it is time to let dignity and justice roll down like waters, across the land. Prison is bad for pregnant women. Shackling pregnant women, sending pregnant women and post-partum women into solitary are atrocities. Meanwhile, in Ohio, “the bill could get a vote on the Senate floor as early as this month.”

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: Colorlines / Stokely Baksh)

Utah, Georgia and Arkansas stop shackling women (prisoners) in childbirth!

In 2014, Maryland and Massachusettsstopped shackling women prisoners in childbirth. Last year, at this time, North Carolina ended shackling women prisoners in childbirth. Sometimes, a state legislature decides; sometimes a prisons director. or a governor decides. Advocates for banning the shackling of pregnant women insist that legislation is preferable to executive orders. This year, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina legislatures considered banning shackling pregnant women prisoners and, in some instances, the use of solitary for pregnant and post-partum women prisoners. Utah, Georgia. and Arkansas passed legislation ending shackling. Tennessee failed to pass. Missouri, which already bans the use of shackles on women in childbirth, extended limitations on the practice to jails in Missouri … with “extraordinary circumstances” exceptions. 

In Utah, both houses of the legislature unanimously passed a bill banning the use of shackles in childbirth. Jake Anderegg, a Senate sponsor of the legislation, called the bill “one of the most no-brainer bills I’ve ever run.” In Georgia, both houses passed, although the Senate vote was 52 – 1. The one opponent was “a former law enforcement officer”. In both Utah and Georgia, legislators were moved to action by testimony of formerly incarcerated women who had suffered childbirth while in shackles, Michelle Aldana; in Utah; Pamela Winn, in Georgia.

In 2001, Michelle Aldana was in Utah State Prison for seven months. She was also pregnant. When Michelle Aldana gave birth, she was shackled to her hospital bed for somewhere between 30 and 40 hours. Throughout, her legs and one arm were chained to the bed. Throughout, her ankles bled. As Michelle Aldana remembers, “I felt like a farm animal … I just don’t think any woman, when they’re that vulnerable, should ever be treated that way. It’s just wrong.” Michelle Aldana’s child was born with meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) and emerged from the womb unconscious: “They hurt my baby….and he didn’t do anything to anybody. I felt like it was my fault because I had a drug charge…but he didn’t do anything – ever – to anybody. He’s just a tiny little baby and they hurt him really bad…and I still feel really bad.” According to Michelle Aldana, because of her body type, she was told a vaginal birth would be dangerous. Utah refused a Caesarean section, and so she had to endure a vaginal birth, during which her pelvis was broken: “I felt like an animal in a cage. I felt like I wasn’t human … Nobody in this world deserves to be treated like an animal.”

In 2008, Pamela Winn. entered Robert A Deyton Detention Facility, a facility in Clayton County, Georgia, that was designed for men. At intake, she discovered she was six weeks pregnant. At that point, Pamela Winn was a healthy single mother of two children, a college graduate, a registered nurse, and a home owner. Whenever Pamela Winn was transported anywhere, she was shackled, wrists to belly chain. At one point, entering a van, she fell and, being shackled, couldn’t catch herself. According to Pamela Winn, “From that point is when I started bleeding.” She asked for medical attention. No one came for days. It took twelve weeks to actually get any medical attention. Then, one night, Pamela Winn started bleeding and cramping. Shackled to her bed, Pamela Winn suffered a miscarriage. Then, she was taken to the hospital, where she was informed that she had already miscarried. When she asked where her baby was, the guards told her they had thrown out the sheets, and with them the baby. Soon after, Pamela Winn was transferred to another facility, where she was immediately placed in solitary. Pamela Winn is now Executive Director of RestoreHer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of incarcerated pregnant women and ending the mass incarceration directly impacted women of color: “I think that’s what’s really driven me to do this work and to fight for these laws to be passed. The fact that they tell you there’s nothing you can do. That just didn’t sit well with my soul to know that someone can treat a person like this.”

We keep reading this sentence: “Women are America’s fast-growing segment of prisoners.” So what? Last week a first of a kind study considering pregnancy outcomes in US prisons was published. That studynotes, “Being in prison or jail during pregnancy can be a difficult time for many women, fraught with uncertainty about the kind of health care they might receive, about whether they will be shackled in labor, and about what will happen to their infants when they are born. Some pregnant women in custody may experience isolation and degradation from staff and insufficient pre-natal care.” The study ends with a call to recognize “the need to address the numerous complexities of birth in custody, such as the medically unsafe practices of placing pregnant women in solitary confinement and shackling women in labor, ensuring proper pregnancy and postpartum care, and determining who will care for the infants born to mothers in custody.” Who doesn’t know that?

Michelle Aldana and Pamela Winn refused to be treated like animals, refused to give up or give in. They have gone on to become inspiring advocates for common moral decency. Who are we when we have to struggle to prohibit forcing women to give birth in shackles? It’s time to stop `discovering’ that women are the fastest growing prison population; that women in prison are pregnant and are giving birth; that prison is bad for pregnant women. Stop shackling pregnant women and stop sending pregnant women and post-partum women into solitary. Stop sending pregnant women to prison. Tear down the prison walls and build a better world. 

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: Colorlines / Stokely Baksh)

In New York, Jane Doe was shackled in childbirth, despite New York’s anti-shackling laws

In March 2018, North Carolina officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. At that time, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, a medical anthropologist and OB-GYN said, “Passing laws and changing policy is only one step – there needs to be training and accountability and oversight to make sure that it doesn’t actually happen.” In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. For nine years, “physical restraints” on pregnant women during labor and delivery has been banned. Tell that to Jane Doe, who was forced in February of this year to undergo labor and delivery while her ankles were shackled and her wrists were handcuffed to the bed. Who did this? The New York Police Department. Why? Because they could. Because she was already a Jane Doe, as far as they were concerned.

The attending doctors asked the police to remove the restraints. The police said no. The doctors said New York state law bans the use of restraints. The police replied that the NYPD’s Patrol Guide required restraints and, importantly, the Patrol Guide supersedes state law. According to Dr. Sufrin, 26 states ban the shackling of women in labor. The Federal Government does not ban the shackling of women in labor and delivery, although the so-called First Step Act, currently awaiting discussion in the U.S. Congress, would address the issue. It seems unlikely, though, that the Congress will act on this.

The problem with the so-called banning laws is that they are rife with so-called “extraordinary circumstances” loopholes, which leave a great deal to the discretion of prison staff and police: “While [a number of] states and the District of Columbia have laws governing shackling of pregnant individuals, none have an outright ban on the practice.” 

The history of shackling pregnant women (prisoners) in the United States is the ongoing history of slavery. While we remove statues and rename schools and other institutions, we should pay closer attention to and abolish the shackling of prisoners, all prisoners, beginning at the very least with pregnant women (prisoners). In 2014, the Correctional Association of New York interviewed 27 women who had given birth in New York prisons after the 2009 law was passed. 23 of them had been shackled during childbirth. How many more times must we hear or read similar accounts before we take real action? It’s time to bring slavery to an end. End the shackling of pregnant women (prisoners) and all people. Do it now!

North Carolina Stops Shackling Women (Prisoners) in Childbirth!

Yesterday, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. This came after SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina sent a letter to the North Carolina Director of Prisons, which read, in part: “The North Carolina Department of Public Safety prohibits the use of shackling during delivery and yet in recent weeks at least two people from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women were restrained throughout their laboring process at a local medical center. This was in spite of the concerns of medical staff and the fact that it was in violation of NC Department of Public Safety written policies and legal precedent.” After two months `deliberation’, the North Carolina Director of Prisons agreed. In so doing, North Carolina joins 22 states that currently prohibit or limit the shackling of pregnant women. While there is cause for celebration, why do more than half the states in the United States allow women (prisoners) to be shackled during childbirth?

The letter from SisterSong and the coalition noted that shackling people during and after childbirth is “inhumane and unsafe”; that no state that has banned shackling has suffered any negative consequences; that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has long opposed shackling; that “shackling interferes with the ability to properly treat and care for people and to respond to crisis situations”. Along with doctors, the courts have found that shackling violates the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Further, “with people of color overrepresented in the prison system, this issue falls hardest on people who already struggle with health disparities and higher rates of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality.”

The letter concluded, “We are demanding that the policy be updated to be brought in line with the best practices and recommendations of health professionals and that training be provided to ensure that it is implemented consistently. This practice serves no public benefit. It does, however, risk harmful impacts on individuals and their children. It is not only bad health policy, it is a violation of individual’s human rights.”

Last year in North Carolina, 81 women (prisoners) gave birth … shackled. As of a month ago, North Carolina prisons “boasted” 50 pregnant women.

According to Omisade Burney-Scott, director of strategic partnerships and advocacy for SisterSong, explained, SisterSong wants to ban shackling “throughout the entire pregnancy, so during prenatal care, labor and delivery, postnatal, out to eight weeks and also during breast feeding.” In Kentucky, State Senator Julie Raque Adams filed Senate Bill 133, known as the “Dignity Bill,” which would prohibit shackling of women prisoners in childbirth. Currently, the bill is “one floor vote away” from passage. Georgia and Connecticut are considering bills that would ban the shackling of women in childbirth.

Women prisoners are women. It is wrong and harmful to shackle pregnant women. It is right to support women’s right to health, well-being, and being women. So, thank you to SisterSong and their allies. Thank you to State Senator Julie Raque Adams and her allies. Thank you to North Carolina and Kentucky. Last year, Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, “requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to consider the location of children when placing mothers behind bars, expanding visitation policies for primary caretakers, banning shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women, and prohibiting prisons from charging for essential health care items, such as tampons and pads.” The clock is ticking. End the shackling of pregnant from sea to shining sea.

 

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Infographic Credit: Nursing for Women’s Health Journal)

What do you mean, sterilized without consent?

Last week, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners … again. Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 1135 into law. The bill reads, in part: “This bill would prohibit sterilization for the purpose of birth control of an individual under the control of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or a county correctional facility, as specified.” Not forcing sterilization on women prisoners seems pretty straightforward. Some would even say a no-brainer.

And yet, this law took a lot of brains, and muscle and organizing and history.

The quick story is that the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed, last year, that the California prison system had coerced women prisoners into sterilization. Lawmakers, and in particular the California Women’s Legislative Caucus, called for an investigation. A State audit showed that between 2005 and 2013, 144 tubal ligations were performed on women prisoners. At least 25% of these had no evidence whatsoever of informed consent. Most of the others were dicey. 88 of the women were Latina or Black, and 6 were “other”. All of the women, one hundred percent, had been jailed at least once.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson wrote the bill. She worked with Cynthia Chandler, co-founder of the prisoners rights group Justice Now. They worked with former prisoners, such as Kelli Dillon, who could confirm the allegations and, more importantly, put a human face on the story. When the bill was presented, it passed unanimously, thanks to the great work of great investigative reporters, community organizers, legislators, and current and former women prisoners.

The law’s back-story raises many concerns. Between 1909 and 1964, California had compulsory sterilization laws that targeted people of color, the poor, the disabled, those living with mental illnesses, and prisoners. About 20,000 men and women were sterilized without any pretense of consent. Forced sterilization laws were officially banned, by the California legislature, in 1979.

Prison doctors and administrators found loopholes in the ban, and they were back in business, and the only possible witnesses are `unreliable’. After all, they’re repeat offenders, many with low levels of formal education and many with “too many children.” And they’re women, mostly women of color.

In Maryland, when State Delegate Mary L. Washington discovered that women prisoners were being shackled in childbirth, she replied, “Wait. What do you mean, shackled?” When she learned that shackled meant shackled, she launched what she figured was a no-brainer, a ban on shackling women prisoners in childbirth. It took two years of lots of brain and brawn to get that no-brainer passed.

These crimes by the State succeed because the population at large has been persuaded, for decades, that these women are the problem, and it’s best to leave the problem to the experts, prison doctors and prison guards. That’s how we’ve ended up in a world of what-do-you-mean.

In California, members of Justice Now are organizing an education campaign for current women prisoners and another for former prisoners. We all need that education. What do you mean, sterilized without consent? What do you mean, shackled?

 

(Photo credit: CDCR via Common Dreams)

Shackling pregnant women prisoners violates the law and women’s rights!

This past session, Maryland passed anti-shackling bill HB 27. It took two years to pass a bill that protects pregnant inmates from being shackled. The Maryland bill passed along with one in Massachusetts, making these the 19th and 20th states to have such legislation. A number of states have passed anti-shackling bills restricting the use of restraints. Still, these bills don’t guarantee protection of the right for dignity of pregnant inmates, especially considering that most pregnant inmates are African Americans, Latinas, American Indians or members of other stigmatized communities.

The Maryland bill was enacted on July 1, and already the question of monitoring and enforcement has emerged. Why? In the states where these “anti Shackling” bills have been enacted, women detainees are still being shackled.

Recently, some cases of shackled pregnant or post partum inmates made the news, in horrific cases of women who were degraded in the process and had long term health consequences or were put at risk of having complications for being shackled during pregnancy, labor or post partum. Equally shocking is that the reasons or justifications given ranged from lack of training of personnel in charge to lack of enforcement power attached to the bill. According to one report, “Many correctional systems, doctors, guards and prison officials simply are not told about anti-shackling laws, or are not trained to comply”

How can professionals in charge of women prisoners ignore what constitutes torture, despite “modern” means of communication? Speculators can place financial orders to make enormous amount of money in a nanosecond, but a bill that forbids torture needs so much effort to be understood? What type of training is needed to see that a pregnant women walking with chains or having chains around her waist is torture?

Despite anti-shackling legislation, pregnant women in Texas are constantly at risk of being shackled. New York passed an anti-shackling law in 2009. Recently, in a survey of 27 women who had given birth in New York prisons, 23 said that they have been shackled before, during or right after their delivery.

The women prison population is on the rise. The official language is that the vast majority goes to prison for non-violent offenses. The reality is their social position makes them more vulnerable to being punished for pitiful reasons. Meanwhile the punishment inside the prison is constant and degrading. Abuses go from restricting the number of maxi pads for periods per month and per woman, unless the woman pays for more, to restricting motherhood, making it difficult to keep contact with already born children as well as guaranteeing decent conditions for pregnancy, delivery and post partum recovery.

70% of incarcerated women are mothers, and about 6% are pregnant. Still, women inmates are treated like men. In Maryland during the discussion of the anti-shackling bill, testimonies arguing against the bill presented possibility of escape as a major risk. All the “evidence” concerned men’s attempts to escape while being transported to hospital. No one said anything to correct this. Women who are pregnant don’t escape. There has been no incident of women in labor escaping or causing harm.

The anti-shackling bills have also a tendency to be weak in the protection of pregnant women. In Maryland a series of amendments dulled the impact of the introduced bill. The language – including recognition of the conditions of pregnancy, the importance to comply with international human rights principles, and more precisions about the monitoring of use of restraints if deemed necessary of HB 27 – was crossed out. Still, this bill is important, and it is what we have in Maryland. All efforts should now go to monitoring the application and enforcement of the bill so pregnant inmates are not left alone to deal with abuses.

So far, when pregnant or post partum inmates are shackled in anti-shackling states, the response is a lawsuit. “But there is no policing entity that’s really going to hold these institutions responsible.”

The conclusion should be clear and should include the entire United States. The United States should pass a clear federal law that prohibits shackling pregnant incarcerated women. Why not become more human and make the incarceration of pregnant women more difficult if not impossible? Why not stop the cycle of violence and torture? Women’s right to dignity has to be defended at the national level. A right is a right, and a law to protect women’s dignity is a law!

 

(Image Credit: RadicalDoula.com)

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?

Mother’s Day seemed to end early and abruptly this year.

In Australia, under the proposed new national budget, women who have a child, otherwise known as mothers, face paying 30% more on student loans than their male counterparts. No matter that another government policy encourages women to have three children, one for ma, one for pa, and for the nation down the road: “These aren’t choices we force on men. These are penalties we extract from women, based on their gender.”

Speaking of penalties, this week, the Pennsylvania ACLU revealed that in Pennsylvania, pregnant women prisoners are routinely shackled, including during childbirth. Pennsylvania is one of the states that actually has a law, the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, which prohibits this kind of treatment. That law was passed in 2010. The ACLU has written to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania asking her to `clarify the law.’

Speaking of clarifying the law, Marissa Alexander still can’t catch a break. For having shot once in the air and not endangered anyone, in order to ward off an abusive partner, Marissa Alexander still faces a possible 60 years behind bars. While her lawyers may have all sorts of new evidence, the prosecuting attorney says the evidence isn’t new enough and the judge is worried about the precedent set by having a second Stand Your Ground hearing. Happy Mother’s Day.

But for the women farmworkers of Immokalee, it may just be a Mother’s Day to celebrate. For the fourth year in a row, farmworker mothers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, stormed the ramparts of Publix, armed to the teeth with hope, a vision of a decent and dignified future for all, a dream of industrial democracy, and a letter, which read:

“May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day

To Publix:

We are farmworker women.  This is the fourth celebration of Mother’s Day in which we are writing to Publix to ask that you join the Fair Food Program.

As mothers, we work in the fields to support our families, especially to help our children through school.

As mothers, we do not make enough to fully support our family.  And the little that we do make is not easy to earn: We work under the sun and rain of Florida.  We do everything so that you can have tomatoes:  we plant, we tie up the plants, we harvest, and then we do it all again the next season.  In spite of all that, it seems that you do not understand and do not want to hear the voice of farmworkers.

Publix profits from the sweat of those of us who work in the fields.  We deserve respect and we deserve a fair wage.

Now is the time to join the Fair Food Program to protect the rights of workers and ensure a fair wage, with the penny per pound that 12 other corporations are already paying.  What are you waiting for, Publix?

Sincerely,

The Women’s Group of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

After delivering the letter, Lupe Gonzalo reported, “Publix presumes to say that they support families — but in reality, we don’t see this support. And we are not afraid to tell them that what they are saying is not true.  We are not afraid to come and protest in front of their stores.  Because we are speaking the truth, with our heads held high. For all of us, when we speak to our children, we tell them the truth.  And we tell them that Publix has not signed onto the Program because they are afraid.  Even children can see that.  But what does Publix say to its children?  Only lies?  Is that how they are educating their children?  That is not how we prepare our children for the future.”

Others, like Nely Rodriguez, mother of four, agreed. Now is the time!

Thanks to the work of women like Marissa Alexander, Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, maybe Mother’s Day didn’t end early this year, because, for them, the struggle of women continues, and that’s what Mother’s Day is all about.

(Photo Credit: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings

March 8 was International Women’s Day. Two recent events in the United States show that we need more than a day to establish women’s rights.

While bills to ban shackling pregnant women in custody were being discussed in both Maryland and in Massachusetts, a Virginian lawmaker declared, “Once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” After being roundly criticized, he said that his words were taken out of context and what he really meant was bearer instead of host.

Meanwhile, in Maryland at the hearing of HB 27 Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act, lawmakers pondered how to “manage pregnant women” in prison. They focused on security issues for guards and the general public and what possible incidents could occur if pregnant inmate walk without shackles. Responding to a delegate’s question on the history of escape by pregnant inmates, one witness for the Department of Public Safety said, “ We are not aware of any incident like this but we want to make sure.”

As they debated whether the bill was not too lenient on pregnant inmates, a delegate wondered, “How do we go back about writing a bill? Precisely what is the nature of the security issues?” Again the Department reported zero incidents. Throughout the discussions of `safety and security’, the actual facts and realities of being incarcerated while pregnant and possibly being shackled became invisible and the safety of the women was of no concern.

All that changed with the testimony of Delegate Mary Washington, the Bill’s sponsor; Sara Love, Public Policy Director of ACLU Maryland; and Jacquie Robarge, Executive Director of Power Inside, an organization that “serves women impacted by incarceration.”

Jacquie shared a report from inmates who witnessed pregnant women shackled during transport. No officials take notice of the lived situations of incarcerated women. A code of silence permeates prisons and jails, and so the only way to know what is happening comes from other inmates. That is why such a bill is necessary. For lawmakers, however, the main point of contention was to make sure that the “host” could be controlled at any time.

In Virginia, State Senator Steve Martin’s `host’ response to the valentines’ card sent by reproductive rights advocates, via Facebook, reminded women that their reproductive capacity made them less than a full being in a state that claims to protect democratic values. It comes as no surprise that Senator Martin supported both the mandatory ultrasound bill as well as the personhood bill. Fortunately, the `hosts’ organized and defeated both bills.

The Maryland and Virginia examples reveal the position of women in the minds of too many lawmakers today. Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings.

(Photo Credit: Grassroots Leadership)

Massachusetts Stops Shackling Women (Prisoners) in Childbirth!

 

Yesterday, we asked, “Will Massachusetts stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth?” Today, the Governor gave his answer. Yes! Governor Duval Patrick today said, “We will end finally, completely and immediately the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in labor.” Yes!

The struggle does not end with the Governor’s regulation. As Senator Karen Spilka, who sponsored the bill currently in the Massachusetts legislature, noted, “It’s not necessary, it’s inhumane, and it can be very detrimental to the woman and the baby. We need to codify this to strongly send a message that we are a state that treats our women humanely and wants to foster their health and wellness.”

Or, as Governor Patrick succinctly said, “Regulation is good, but here law is better.”

The bill puts the shackling of women prisoners in childbirth in the context of pregnant women’s rights to well being, to decent and affirmative health care. Shackling pregnant women is inhumane and misogynistic. It hates women as women.

Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan, along with the women and men of ACLU, NARAL, The Prison Birth Project, and others will keep the struggle going for passage of the legislation. But for today … YES! Yes, women prisoners are women. Yes, it is wrong to shackle pregnant women. Yes, it is right to support women’s right to health, well being, and being women. Yes!

 

(Image Credit: RadicalDoula)

Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women: Women are the etc.

In Annapolis today, the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee is scheduled to conduct hearings on HB27, the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act. Delegates Mary L. Washington, Ariana B. Kelly, and Barbara A. Robinson sponsored the bill. Its synopsis reads: “Prohibiting the use of a physical restraint on an inmate while the inmate is in labor or during delivery; requiring the medical professional responsible for the care of a specified inmate to determine when the inmate’s health allows the inmate to be returned to a correctional facility after giving birth; prohibiting, with specified exceptions, a physical restraint from being used on a specified inmate; requiring a correctional facility to document specified use of a physical restraint; etc.”

Etc. Women are the etc.

Across the United States, women are being imprisoned at a high rate, higher than any other group, according to some reports. From 1977 to 2004, Maryland `enjoyed’ a 353 percent increase in women going to prison. Maryland has one women’s prison, in Jessup. In Jessup, the women prison population breaks down as follows: 53 percent are Black women; 46 percent are White women. (Almost ¾ of Maryland’s prison population is Black, while only 30% of Maryland’s population is Black.)

Most of the women are in for drug-related offenses. Many are in for longer terms, `thanks’ to Three Strikes and mandatory sentencing policies.

Mary Washington introduced a similar bill last year, which was so watered down in committee that it was gutted of any serious content. Hopefully this year’s bill will fare better. Washington has been working with the ACLU of Maryland; Power Inside, a Baltimore group that “serves women impacted by incarceration, street life and abuse”; law faculty from the University of Maryland Law School; students from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County; members of Women In and Beyond the Global; and others.

According to Washington, “One of challenges that these women face is that they are permanently scarred, emotionally and in some ways physically, from being restrained during pregnancy and during birth.”

Maryland is one of a number of states in which legislators are trying to ban the shackling of pregnant women prisoners. In each state, part of the struggle is that women are the etc. Opponents suggest security and flight risks; they share anecdotes of prisoners who have escaped while in hospital. Those anecdotes never involve women, much less pregnant women, much less women in labor or childbirth. Last year, when those anecdotes were presented to the Judiciary Committee, no one mentioned that salient issue.

Women are the etc.: women of color, working women, women prisoners, women. The Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women involves all women, any woman, every woman.

 

(Photo Credit: DaretobePowerful.com)