Alabama and Tennessee banned shackling incarcerated pregnant people. Will the staff ignore the law?

On April 8, 2022, the Alabama legislature passed a bill that bans the use of waist and leg shackles on incarcerated people during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period, and specifies the conditions under wrist restraints may be used during the postpartum period. Alabama Governor Ivey signed the bill. On April 21, the Tennessee legislature passed its version of a bill banning the use of shackles on incarcerated pregnant people during pregnancy, labor and delivery. It also prohibits shackling incarcerated pregnant people behind the back or to another inmate. Both bills took years to pass, years of advocacy, organizing and just plain pushing on the part of legislators, formerly incarcerated people, such as Pamela Winn, and others. That leaves 13 states with no restrictions on the shackling in pregnant people. Further, even among the 37 states that have passed legislation banning the use of shackles on pregnant people, the laws are often riddled with exceptions and vagaries that leave judgement to the discretion of prison staff. This begs two questions, at the very least. First, why is it so difficult to ban shackling people who are pregnant, in labor, in delivery, or postpartum. Second, what is our collective investment in this form of torture that makes it so impermeable to common sense, medical knowledge, decency, humanity?

In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. In February 2018, Jane Doe was forced 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. In April 2021, New York and Jane Doe settled the case. Jane Doe received $750,000. None of the attending officers was disciplined. They’re still on the job.

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. 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, where 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. The thing is that, in 2015, Minnesota unanimously passed and then enacted An act relating to public safety; addressing the needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth. The act bans the use of shackles, sort of: “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.” Is the representative of the correctional facility trained to make that determination? No. But no matter. It’s up to them. 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.

These are just two examples of the situation, even when laws have finally been passed banning the use of shackles on incarcerated people in pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. What do these laws mean when staff ignore them and with impunity? 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, justice, decency, humanity? What will it take to break the chains, once and for all? It should not be this difficult to stop shackling people in childbirth. It should not be this difficult to stop shackling pregnant people. What exactly is our investment in the torture, trauma, humiliation of pregnant people?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)

#NoBabiesBehindBars: Prison will never, ever be a safe place to be pregnant

This week has been filled with movements towards improving the conditions of pregnant incarcerated people. The Missouri legislature considered the Missouri Prison Nursery bill, which would keep incarcerated mothers and their children together, in prison, for 18 months, establishing the Correctional Nursery Program. In Tennessee, the legislature is debating a bill that would end the shackling of incarcerated pregnant people. Similar laws have been passed in every state that borders Tennessee. The Alabama legislature is debating bills that would bring Alabama state prisons and jails in compliance with Federal legislation concerning incarcerated pregnant people. At present, the Alabama Department of Corrections does not include information on births and pregnancies in its monthly report. It’s just not important enough.

All these advances, and they are advances, come from the pain that pregnant people and people giving birth and people going through post-partum have suffered. All these advances, and they are advances, emerge from the extraordinary work of currently and formerly incarcerated people, especially women. Remember, for example, that Alabama’s women’s prison, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, has long been established to be a terrible place, a hellhole for women.

But we must remember that the United States is deeply committed to mass incarceration, so much so that people have to debate whether or not a woman in childbirth should be shackled to a bed. In 2006, Rebecca Figueroa was two months pregnant when she was arrested and sent to Riverhead Correctional Facility, a jail on Long Island, New York. She wasn’t worried because she knew she was innocent. Seven months later, because she refused to accept a plea bargain, because she was innocent, she was still In jail, and living with a high risk pregnancy. When she went into labor, she was finally taken to the hospital, where, during childbirth, her hand and her leg were shackled to the bed. Four months later, all charges were dropped: “The judge looked at me and said, `We apologize.’”

We apologize.

On Monday, 50 babies, and their parents, showed up at Parliament, in London, and demanded an end to incarceration of pregnant women. Level Up, an organization fighting gender injustice, and the campaign No Birth Behind Bars brought the group together. No births behind bars, no babies behind bars, no pregnant people behind bars. No more stillbirths such as those a Styal and Bronzefield in recent years. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of women going through childbirth while serving sentences rose 56%. 10% of those women never made it to a hospital. Most of those women are in for short sentences, involving non-violent offenses, not that that matters.

As Emma Hughes, of No Births Behind Bars, explained, “Nothing has been learned from the horrific deaths of two babies born in jail. Pregnant women and new mothers continue to be imprisoned by UK courts as part of a barbaric and outdated justice system. It is never OK for a baby to be in jail; it is never safe for a woman to go into labour in a cell, and pregnant women and babies in prison are exposed to lethal risks.”

`Anna Harley’ recounted, “When I was six months pregnant with my first child, I stood in court for the first time in my life and heard the words `remanded into custody’. This meant that I would be held in prison for six months as I waited for my trial date … No woman should suffer as I did.” The line connecting Rebecca Figueroa to Anna Hartley is actually a network, and it spreads across the globe.

Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up, concluded: “Prison will never, ever be a safe place to be pregnant. The trauma and toxic stress of the prison environment causes lasting harm to both mother and child. It’s time for the government to end the shameful imprisonment of pregnant women and new mothers, and make sure they are supported in the community instead.”

Why is that so difficult to understand? Ending the shackling of pregnant women, providing nurseries for them and their children, providing actual reproductive health care are all important, but in some sense, they only move us out of the negative. There is no reason to keep pregnant people incarcerated. Period. Prison will never, ever be a safe place to pregnant. Stop incarcerating pregnant women.

We must do more and we must do better than apologize.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Huck Magazine)

Indiana banned shackling incarcerated people in childbirth … `with certain exceptions’

On Thursday, May 10, Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb received a bill, passed unanimously by both the Indiana House and Senate, concerning the “restraint of pregnant prisoners”. The Governor had until May 17 to sign the bill into law. He signed it immediately. The bill’s digest reads: “Restraint of pregnant inmates; pregnancy from certain sex offenses. Provides that a correctional facility, including a jail, shall: (1) use the least restrictive restraints necessary on a pregnant inmate when the pregnant inmate is in the second or third trimester of pregnancy; or (2) use no restraints on a pregnant inmate who is in labor, delivering a baby, during the immediate postdelivery period, or dealing with a medical emergency related to the pregnancy, with certain exceptions. Repeals the current statute concerning prenatal and postnatal care and treatment and incorporates it into the new chapter concerning pregnant inmates.” On Thursday, Indiana joins the District of Columbia, 31 states and the U.S. Federal government in limiting or banning the shackling of pregnant incarcerated people.

While this is welcome progress, the question of implementation and enforcement, not to mention why it’s taken this long and what’s going on with the remaining states, looms large, in at least two ways. “With certain exceptions” and enforcement, more generally.

Why do almost all the laws include exceptions? On one hand, it’s conceding to prison staffs and in particular prison staff unions. Who will decide that an exception is warranted? Again and again, we have seen doctors, nurses and other health providers object to the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people, and each time, the doctor was rebuffed by a member of the prison or jail staff. There simply is no reason to shackle or otherwise restrain a pregnant person, a person delivering a baby, in labor or immediately postdelivery. At a time when the use of shackles on juvenile incarcerated people and on incarcerated people in court is being debated and, in some places, banned, again `with certain exceptions’, it’s time to find more opportunities to codify “with no exceptions”.

This leads to the second issue, enforcement. Remember the case of Jane Doe, in New York, in 2018? 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. Despite nine years of having banned, “physical restraints” on pregnant women during labor and delivery, in February 2018, Jane Doe was forced 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. That was February 2018. In December of that year, a second woman suffered the identical abuse. New York City settled with the second Jane Doe last year, four years later, for $750,000. The officers faced no discipline whatsoever.

In 2020, a woman was shackled in childbirth in Minnesota. Minnesota had passed its own anti-shackling and pregnancy needs laws in 2015. How many more times must we hear or read this story?

The history of shackling pregnant incarcerated people in the United States is the ongoing history of slavery. While we remove statues and rename schools and other institutions, we should end the shackling of all incarcerated people, beginning at the very least with pregnant incarcerated people. In 2011, Christina Kovatswas incarcerated.  A week after her arrest, she discovered she was pregnant. She was shackled during and after delivery. As she explained to the Indiana legislators, “It’s the most painful and traumatic thing that I can recall. I had nightmares. I still do have nightmares.” Eleven years later, she still has nightmares.

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 incarcerated pregnant people, end the shackling of all people. Do it without exceptions.

(by Dan Moshenberg

 

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)

 

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)

In the name of dignity, North Carolina is about to limit shackling pregnant incarcerated women!

Three years ago, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons responded to SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina and officially ended the shackling of incarcerated women in childbirth. It was a momentous occasion and, in its way, a joyous and hopeful day. For the past three years, North Carolina legislators have tried to expand on that decision and now, finally, it seems they are ready to move forward. Yesterday, August 25, 2021, the Senate voted unanimously to approve a partial ban on pregnant women serving time in North Carolina prisons. The House had unanimously passed a similar bill in May, and now looks set to pass this bill, probably unanimously, and then pass it on to the Governor for signature. As Senator Natalie Murdock, Democrat from Durham, noted, “This is just transformational work. Folks have been in talks about this for years.”

While state prisons were already limited as to when a pregnant woman could be shackled and were banned altogether from shackling a woman in childbirth, the rules were both too vague and too often ignored or “left to the discretion” of staff. This bill codifies, in law, the rules. It limits shackling during the second and third trimesters, labor and delivery, for a six-week postpartum recovery period. If a staff member decides restraints are required, those restraints can only be wrist cuffs and that decision initiates a report to the warden, who then sends all the reports, on a determined regular basis, to the Department of Public Safety Leadership.

While the matter of staff compliance remains, as it always does, the transformational unanimity of the legislature suggests that, at least for the foreseeable future, there will be eyes on the prisons, at least in this matter. Additionally, by insisting on making explicit in law the appropriate treatment and care for women, the North Carolina legislature is demonstrating the conclusion recently reached by researchers of carceral pregnancy and childbirth: “Incarcerated pregnant people and their babies deserve better care that is codified in policy”.

Along with constraint limitations, the bill says newborn babies must remain with their mothers after delivery; mothers must be incarcerated within 250 miles of their babies until the children reach one year old; mothers must have two visits weekly with their children. Pregnant women must be allotted bottom bunks or beds no more than 3 feet off the floor. Guards can’t conduct body cavity searches on pregnant women.

At another time, the question of why it takes three years to arrive at a common sense, clear policy will be debated. For now, though, a celebration is in order. Yesterday’s Senate vote was a unanimous affirmation of the original House bill, House Bill 608, “An Act To Promote The Dignity Of Women Who Are Incarcerated.” Let us all celebrate the promotion of women’s dignity, everywhere, always. That would be just and transformational work.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula)

 

 

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)

Jacob Blake’s shackles form the landscape of the United States of America

Earlier this week, Jacob Blake’s father reported that his son – shot seven times in the back by policemen, paralyzed from the waist down, fighting for his life – was not only under constant police guard but was also shackled to his bed. Jacob Blake Sr remarked, “Why do they have that cold steel on my son’s ankle? He couldn’t get up if he wanted to. So that’s a little overkill to have him shackled to the bed.” Shackling is what police and prison staff do. Ask the myriad pregnant women who have suffered childbirth while shackled to a bed. It’s the American way.

Earlier this month, a newly published book, Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, notes, “In 2017, around 225,060 women in the United States were imprisoned in state and federal prisons and jails, and over a million more were on probation or parole. In 2019, approximately 1,400 incarcerated women were pregnant. Giving birth in prison is a horrific experience, both physically and emotionally. Prisoners have recounted being shackled to the bed, and many say they weren’t allowed to have anyone in the room with them other than the hospital staff. One in eight incarcerated parents will lose their parental rights. And incarcerated mothers are the most likely to lose their children to foster care.”

In May 2020, South Carolina banned the shackling of pregnant women (prisoners) in childbirth. This was a major victory, won after years and decades of struggle and organizing. A number of states, almost half the states in the United States, continue to allow shackling pregnant women (prisoners) in childbirth, and the bans of other states are riddled with loopholes and confusion. 

According to the American Psychological Association, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma.”  This practice is what Jacob Blake Sr. witnessed, it is what Jacob Blake suffered. Shackles are baked into the fabric of the United States, and not only the so-called criminal justice system. Severe mental distress, depression, anguish, trauma: those are the constitutive, if not Constitutional, elements of justice in America. They are what we apply and what we seek for those who must be controlled. There was no overkill in Jacob Blake’s hospital room, sadly. There was only the United States of America at it again. Jacob Blake is no longer shackled to his bed, but the shackles have not been removed.

(Photo Credit: National Museum of African American History and Culture)

In New Jersey, Incarcerated Pregnant Women’s Lives Don’t Matter

In New Jersey, a liberal government is grappling with its own sense of cruelty against incarcerated women. A suit filed in the US District Court for New Jersey claims that officers shackled the ankle of a 30-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe to her hospital bed while she was in labor. She was forced to wear the shackles even while she experienced painful contractions, kept her from turning on her side or moving at all to relieve the pain and—when nurses questioned the need for the shackles—officers refused to remove them and remained in the room even while doctors performed invasive medical procedures. She continued to be restrained while recovering from an emergency C-section and was also not allowed to walk the hallways as part of the healing process. 

The use of shackles during childbirth was banned in the state as far back as 2017. Yet, as Jane Doe was sent to jail on a probation violation in 2018 after relapsing, she was shackled during childbirth, and afterwards. 

The process of shackling, not only de-humanizing, takes a mental toll on women. In a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma.” Women who are incarcerated tend to already have suffered more childhood traumas and shackling them during childbirth is likely to make conditions such as PTSD worse. 

New Jersey, in the wake of Christie, has worked to make progressive reform to address the growing number of women who are incarcerated, including the issues related to shackling pregnant women while receiving medical care, but these bills fall short on the issues that are created from the process of criminalization to begin with. Jane Doe would not have had to file a lawsuit to allege an illegal shackling had she not been arrested to begin with. She, along with many New Jersey women, are part of a vicious cycle of recidivism where they will constantly be in contact with the criminal justice system. 95 percent of people incarcerated in state prison will be released, but 76.6 percent of them will be rearrested within five years. And in New Jersey, it will cost more to keep these people in prison that it would to give them the help that they need, whether it be financial help, drug rehabilitation, mental health access, etc. (each person in incarceration costs the state $60,000 a year). 

Even the bills proposed by the state, while valiant in their efforts to address the crisis, only do so much as to alleviate the symptoms that are caused by incarceration. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen County, proposed legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people during labor and immediately after childbirth, only in cases where the woman (who is in active labor, mind you), presents a substantial flight risk or some other “extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that restraints are needed to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other prisoners, or the public”. Again, the extenuating circumstances are loopholes so that women, in active and painful labor, are still restrained during labor. I wonder at what point we’re going to acknowledge that women will not attempt to flee when they can barely stand. 

Other bills have attempted to show that same compassion to incarcerated women, the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, while reminding those women that they still are prisoners and are only given crumbs at the benevolence of the state at large. 

The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act, would ensure all incarcerated women in New Jersey receive free feminine hygiene products, expressly ban shackling and eliminate solitary confinement for expectant mothers. The bill would expand visiting hours and free phone calls for incarcerated mothers and would create a pilot program allowing overnight visits for mother who are able to meet certain requirements so that they can bond with their newborns.

While we should applause some compassion for incarcerated women, and incarcerated mothers, we need to keep fighting for a day where we meet a pregnant woman who has relapsed with compassion and public health solutions and not arrest or jail. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought to the surface a longstanding dehumanization of people at the hands of the criminal justice system; those officers didn’t care that Jane Doe was in active labor or recovering from a C-section. To the police, Jane Doe was another inmate that deserved to be handcuffed because she was outside of the prison walls, just like any other officer would do to an “inmate”. 

Defunding the police means defunding the prisons means abolishing the prisons that house these women. $60,000 per incarcerated persons can correspond trauma informed therapists and love and safety. 

Can we reimagine what $60,000 per incarcerated individual in the state of New Jersey (there are 39,000 people in various correctional facilities in the state alone)? Can we think about the various ways we can help those people instead of locking them up and subjecting them to a life of imprisonment and dehumanization? Can we literally comprehend how much help $2,340,000,000 (more than $2 billion!) can buy us? Can we imagine a day where there will be no more Jane Does? Where the lives of incarcerated pregnant women matter? 

(Image Credit 1: The Guardian / Molly Crabapple) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Stop Shackling Pregnant Women) (Image Credit 2: Prison Policy Initiative)

Why do we continue to leave pregnant women in deathtrap jails, prisons, detention centers?

Tammy Jackson

At the beginning of March, we asked if Florida would finally stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth. At the end of June, Florida’s Governor signed the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act. Last year, Tammy Jackson gave birth, alone, in a cell in the North Broward Jail, in Pompano Beach. The new law bans shackling pregnant women prisoners; invasive body cavity searches; and the use of solitary confinement; and requires medical examinations at least once every 24 hours. While this is welcome news, it begs the question why it took Florida so long to address the ongoing violence against women in its prisons and jails. Why? Why are pregnant women shackled while pregnant, in childbirth, and after delivery? Why? Across the United States, women, alone in their cells, give birth to children. They are alone because … because they are incarcerated. That justifies all acts of violence and violation, especially against women. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear, the first woman to die of Covid 19 in federal prison, was pregnant when she was sent to prison. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and should never have remained incarcerated. Why is it so hard to release pregnant women from clear and imminent danger?

Every month, the reports come out, and every month, for the past few months, prisons and jails have been the epicenters of Covid infection and mortality. Has that mattered to prison authorities or the public at large? No. Have pregnant women, the most vulnerable sector of the the incarcerated population, been released? No.  In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happenedThe women worry and organize, their families worry and organize, and meanwhile … What? 

This week, faced with a monster outbreak of coronavirus in its prison system, and in particular in San Quentin, California is beginning to consider releasing prisoners. Included in that process is the following: “The department also said it is `reviewing potential release protocols’ for those who are pregnant or in hospice.” Why only now are those processes being reviewed? Why is it so very difficult to understand that pregnant women, and those in hospice care, are at particular risk? What is it about a prison uniform that fatally hides one’s humanity? Meanwhile, part of California’s `process’ of reducing prison overcrowding is to keep people in jails. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Equally nightmarish stories of the abuse of pregnant women in immigrant detention centers continue to pile up as well.

This is the age of mistreatment and abuse of pregnant women. Pregnant women prisoners are the tip not so much of an iceberg as of a continent-wide subterranean volcano. Why are pregnant women being warehoused in jail cells where the staff ignores and `forgets’ them? Why are pregnant women being stuffed into prisons and immigrant detention centers, where they are only meant to suffer and die? If not, we would release them. Period. Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would provide medical care for women before and after childbirth, in both prisons and jails. At the same time, “the legislature struck down proposed bans on shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women this year.” The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: New York Times)

South Carolina will stop shackling women (prisoners) in childbirth!

In March, we asked if South Carolina would pass legislation outlawing the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. Two months and a few days later, we now have the answer. Yes! More than yes, a resounding and expansive yes. While the Governor has yet to sign the legislation, he has said, on more than one occasion, that he would sign it. Last year, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed the bill, presented by Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican representing Daniel Island, by a vote of 104 – 3, but the bill wasn’t sent over to the Senate in time. This year, the House voted 117 – 0, and Senate voted 42 – 0 to pass the bill. This happened in the midst of the South Carolina focusing on coronavirus related issues. Apparently, no one was more surprised that Nancy Mace, who noted, “This is a really big one. It took a lot of people coming together on both sides of the aisle to make it happen, and I’m just really humbled to see that even during a crisis, in South Carolina, we’re getting things done in a nonpartisan way to make our state better.” 

This is a really big one. Not only did the legislature unanimously endorse the bill, they expanded it. The original bill essentially brought South Carolina into compliance with the federal First Step Act, passed in 2018, which bans the shackling of pregnant women (prisoners). Looking at the situation and seizing the moment, legislators, from both parties, decided to add the following: “requiring availability of menstrual hygiene products, access to adequate nutrition, an end to solitary confinement for pregnant prisoners and weekly contact visits between incarcerated people with low- or minimum-security classifications and their children.”

South Carolina’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity noted, “The legislature took the right step in banning shackling of incarcerated women during pregnancy, labor and postpartum recuperation, ending an inhumane practice that 42 other states have already opposed. Restoring dignity and treating people with compassion is a common-sense reform to our criminal justice system. We thank the legislature for passing this bill and we urge Governor McMaster to stop this cruel policy.”

In South Carolina, as elsewhere, women, prisoners, supporters invoked dignity. In South Carolina, this week, legislators demonstrated that dignity must include the recognition and abolition of cruelty and then proceed to the respect for all human beings, generally, and, here, for women in their specificity and particularity. Not shackling is a good start, but it remains a negation of a negation. Taking care of pregnant women, no matter where they are, is simply the right thing to do. Meanwhile, this week, members of the Michigan Senate began debating a bill, in committee, that would ban the shackling of pregnant women (prisoners). The struggle continues.

 

 

 

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula)  (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)