SAFETY FOR WOMEN IN PRISON
DURING PREGANCY, LABOR AND DELIVERY
By Jean Basinger, Iowa CURE
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about the important issue of safety for women in prison during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. My remarks will be based on the 2010 report of the National Women’s Law Center and The Rebecca Project for Human Rights entitled, Women in Prison. This is a state by state report card and analysis of U.S. Federal Policies on conditions of confinement for pregnant and parenting women. It includes an analysis of state and federal policies on prenatal care, shackling, and alternative sentencing and Prison nurseries. It also includes those women in immigration centers. The report is an effort to help those who work with pregnant women in prison to improve the laws and policies regarding the treatment the women receive.
As a way of introduction I would like to mention my experience working many years as a labor and delivery room nurse, and 12 years as a registered nurse on a chemical dependency treatment unit where we often had pregnant women who were court committed for treatment and were transported to court and medical appointments by the sheriff’s department and were required to wear shackles, handcuffs and heavy belly shackles.
I have also been working with groups in my state in an effort to get effective laws passed regarding the treatment of pregnant women and girls. in state prisons, county jails, and detention centers.
The report of the Rebecca Project focuses on four areas: 1. prenatal care, including proper diet, Medical exams, HIV screening, etc, 2. shackling of pregnant women during transportation, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery, 3. family based treatment s an alternative to Incarceration, 4. Prison nurseries.
Each state was asked to submit answers to a set of questions related to each topic and these answers were analyzed and the states were given grades in each area. Today I will share with you the section on the shackling during labor and delivery. My state received a low grade in this area and is now actively engaged in working to pass a law regarding this important issue.
The questions asked regarding this issue were as follows:
l. Does the state have a statute that explicitly restricts the department of corrections’ routine use of restraints during labor and delivery? (Only six states have such a law.)
2. If the state does not have a statue does the Department of Corrections have a written policy that adequately limits the use of restraints on pregnant women?
3… Does the state require training for individuals handling and transporting incarcerated persons needing medical care or those dealing with pregnant women specifically?
4. Does the state have a high-level official responsible for determining whether a pregnant woman poses a security risk and needs to be restrained?
5. Does the medical staff have input on the decision to use restraints and what type of restraints are used?
6. Does the state require each incident where restraints are used to be reported and reviewed by an independent body?
7. Does the state’s policy include consequences for individuals and/or institutions found to be in violation of state policy regarding the use of restraints?
My own state of Iowa has no statue regarding the use of restraints. We are in the process of trying to get a law passed that would prohibit the use of restraints on a pregnant inmate in labor unless it was determined by the Warden or another designated staff that she was a flight risk.
The Department of Corrections has argued that they did not use shackles for women in labor so it was not necessary to have a policy or law prohibiting the practice. We disagree. We feel that this leaves the door open for staff to make a decision to use restraints and also for a changes by the administration. We also feel that it is not enough simply to have a DOC policy against this practice. We must have a law which will also include County jails, juvenile and immigration detention centers. These are the facilities where there is most likely to be abuse due to lack of training and onsite medical staff.
The shackling of women during labor and delivery puts the mother and baby at risk because it makes it very difficult for the woman to follow instructions of the medical staff and it can cause her distress which will be transmitted to the baby. It also interferes with the ability of the medical staff to give medical assistance, evaluate the progress of the labor, and give emergency care.
Passing such a bill is just a beginning. Proper training and monitoring for staff must be put into place in order to bring institutions into compliance.
If you are not aware of the practices in your country regarding the care of women in your prisons and other detention centers during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I do hope you will make an effort to investigate these practices, and to become an advocate on this issue.
Jean Basinger, Iowa CURE
1335 48th St.
Des Moines, IA 50311
e-mail: Jean Basinger@gmail.com
Source: *The Rebecca Project for Human Rights-National Women’s Law Center, Women Behind Bars