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)

Michigan: Demand clear standards that protect the rights and health of pregnant inmates!

In Maryland, incarcerated women are struggling for the right to safe and humane birthing conditions.  Currently, Maryland practices the shackling of pregnant inmates before, during, and after labor and the delivery of their babies.

But this isn’t the only state where that proverbial glow radiating from expectant mothers is dulled by the heavy chains habitually used to restrain them.  In fact, only 18 states have legislation limiting the use of shackles on pregnant women.  Michigan is one of those states.

Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti is the only women’s prison in Michigan.  According to the operating procedures at HVCF, pregnant prisoners are handcuffed during transport to the hospital, even if they are in active labor. At the hospital, the prisoner’s handcuffs are removed and no other form of restraint may be used during labor and delivery, with exceptions through authorization.  However, there is no state legislation mandating this practice.  Furthermore, not all incarcerated women are housed at Huron Valley; many serve their sentences in local jails throughout the state.  What are the operational procedures, if any, that protect pregnant and postpartum women there?  And how is HVCF held accountable to make sure they comply with operating procedures?

There are three main reasons why we should be concerned about the shackling of pregnant inmates: 1.) cruelty, trauma, and humiliation associated with shackling, 2.) the significant health risks they pose to pregnant women, and 3.) constitutionality. According to the ACLU, every single court that has consider the practice of shackling women during labor has found it to be unconstitutional.

On Tuesday January 28th, Maryland lawmakers will gather in Annapolis to decide on the fate of HB27, the “Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act.”  Michigan should follow Maryland’s lead by demanding clear standards that protect the rights and health of pregnant inmates.

 

(Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Corrections)

Stop shackling pregnant women!

Alicia Beltran

Alicia Beltran

In Wisconsin, Alicia Beltran, 14 weeks pregnant, went for a prenatal check up to make sure that everything was going to be well. She explained to the PA in her doctor’s office her concerns. One was a pill addiction that she had actually ended a year earlier. Instead of addressing her concerns, her doctor’s office betrayed her trust and the celebrated code of confidentiality between patients and doctors, supposedly the basis of medical practice. They called the police. Two days later, the police came to Beltran’s home and shackled her. She was rushed to court handcuffed and shackled, where she was denied access to a counsel but where a lawyer was already assigned to represent her fetus. Then, she was ordered into a drug treatment program although there was no trace of drug in her body, although she was taking care of herself, although she had trusted her doctor and society to respect her as a person. For Beltran, the consequences of this abusive treatment are dire. They include losing her job. In fact, the state has endangered her health, the health of her fetus, her social status and the well being of her family, current and future.

Wisconsin is one of 38 states, including Maryland, that has passed so-called feticide laws. Three states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota – have passed “cocaine mom” laws, and that’s what happened to Alicia Beltran. Finally, the first federal lawsuit to challenge these laws has been filed by The National Advocates For Pregnant Women, the Reproductive Justice Clinic of New York University School of Law, and Linda S. Vanden Heuvel, Alicia Beltran’s lawyer. This threat to pregnant women has been on the rise as more women are thrown behind bars.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge these laws that are threatening women for being less than the fetus they carry, especially when they are women of color and/or poor, in brief socially vulnerable.

Last year, a bill was introduced in committee in the Maryland legislature. If passed, the bill would have put into law a ban on shackling pregnant inmates. Surprisingly, or not, the bill was defeated.

These practices of shackling pregnant women serve two purposes. They render women as less than human and they “de-womanize” society. Last year, Maryland repealed the death penalty. It is time for Maryland, and all states, to show real commitment to women’s rights and women’s equality.

Hopefully, Alicia Beltran’s case will set a precedent. Whatever comes out of the suit, we should not forget that feticide laws were presented to protect pregnant women. In reality, by creating the fetus as a full person separated from the woman’s body, feticide laws have one purpose:  to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, Roe v Wade and its guarantees of women’s right to decide for themselves. External control of a woman’s body is an assault on the dream and the possibilities of a society with more equality, better distribution of wealth, and richer harmony. We need to support all and any efforts to “de-shackle” women.

 

(Photo Credit: Feministing / The New York Times)