Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Women Prisoners in the US Still Shackled Whilst Giving Birth

This isn't news to me, I have known about this practice for years, but I have a feeling that it may come as quite a shock to some of my European readers. Or perhaps I should rephrase that; my readers from civilised parts of the world.

I cannot think of anything more degrading, anything more traumatic, or anything more unnecessary, than to be forced to give birth whist shackled to a bed.

Misogyny is not the sole domain of Islamic males is it? No, it flourishes alongside that other characteristic that is the domain of inadequate men everywhere, the power play, the total control of women. And nowhere does it flourish more than among the cops and the screws (correctional officers) of the American police state.

If only as an academic exercise, how I would love to see the results of a comprehensive psychological study of both police and prison guards. Boy! I bet that would make some scary reading.

I can't get a job because I'm below average intelligence, invariably racist, I have anger issues and an authoritarian attitude. I know, I'll join the police force or the prison service. What a great idea, what could possibly go wrong?

Women are born free in the US but everywhere give birth in chains

America is almost unique in the civilised world for forcing pregnant prisoners to undergo childbirth cuffed and shackled
Sadhbh Walshe
6 June 2012

Only 16 of 50 states in the US have any regulations or laws against the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth

In 2007, a 17-year-old girl called Cora Fletcher was charged with retail theft. Over a year later, after she missed a court date, she was sent to the Cook County jail, in Illinois. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
During a pre-natal check-up at the facility, her baby appeared to have no heartbeat, so she was sent to the county hospital. As the medical team tried to induce her, Fletcher claims that both her hands and both her feet were shackled to either side of the bed. Only when she finally went into labor, three days later, was one hand and one foot released. It's hard to imagine a more crucifying way to force a woman to try to give birth.
Sadly for Fletcher, there was no payoff for the trauma and humiliation she was forced to endure, as her baby was born dead.
Fletcher was one of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Cook County on behalf of 80 female prisoners and detainees who also claimed to have had similar experiences of being shackled during childbirth. Just under two weeks ago, the county agreed to a settlement of $4.1m dollars payable to the women, who will each receive between $5,000 and $45,000.
The Cook County sheriff's office made it clear, however, that they were agreeing to the deal for expediency's sake only and were admitting to no wrongdoing. This despite the fact that Illinois became the first state in the union to ban the practice of shackling women during labor, back in 1999 – at least seven years before any of the women named in the lawsuit had their babies. A spokesman for the department, Frank Bilecki, went so far as to issue a statement claiming the jail's treatment of (female) detainees is the "most progressive in the nation".
If that is the case, women in America better watch their backs.
The practices of making pregnant women wear belly chains and of shackling their hands and feet before, after and sometimes during labor, are just another way in which the United States distinguishes itself – or fails to distinguish itself, perhaps – as anything but a bastion of liberty and justice and a champion of women's rights. No other country in the "civilized world" finds shackling pregnant women a necessary or desirable procedure. The practice has been repeatedly and vigorously condemned by the committee against torture at the United Nations; and it has been decried by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (You can imagine how doctors relish the prospect of trying to safely deliver a baby whose mother is in chains.)
Yet, here in America, only 16 of the 50 states have any kind of legislation to restrict or ban the practice. And as was evidenced in the Cook County, Illinois law suit, even states that do have laws on their books don't necessarily feel compelled to uphold them.
No one knows exactly how many women have been subjected to this degrading treatment, as prison officials are not obliged to keep records of pregnancies and births that occur to women in their custody. That in itself speaks volumes about the lack of attention paid to the needs of the exploding female prison population. (The US has more women prisoners than any country in the world, and their numbers are increasing at twice the rate of the male population.) When you ask a prison official why women are shackled when they are in transit or away from the facility, the answer will invariably be because that is standard prison procedure and that leg irons, handcuffs and belly chains are necessary to prevent the prisoner escaping and to protect the public.
Chaining up prisoners who are dangerous felons is one thing, but as the vast majority of incarcerated women are nonviolent offenders who, for the most part, are only guilty of crimes of poverty and addiction, a one-size-fits-all shackling policy is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. Especially since the chances of a woman in the middle of labor going on the lam are almost nonexistent. That should be self-evident, but it seems that no allowance is made for the physical vulnerabilities of women, even when they are pregnant.
And so you have a situation where someone like Cora Fletcher finds herself literally and figuratively bound by practices that would be harsh if applied to a multiple murderer, never mind a teenage girl who stole something from a store. As if the rigors of childbirth were not punishing enough, the state chooses to make the experience as torturous for a woman as possible.
There is reason, however, to hope that the days of this barbaric practice are numbered. The recent $4.1m settlement was welcomed by human rights advocates and many lawmakers as a strong message to jails and prisons that shackling women before, during and after childbirth is unlawful and unconstitutional. Cook County has paid a hefty price for its decision to violate their own state's laws. Other local governments can expect to do the same.
Advocacy groups are gearing up to get legislation passed in the 34 states that still allow the practice and are pushing for a federal standard to ensure that the laws are upheld in all 50. It's a shame that it will, apparently, require endless lawsuits and relentless campaigning to put an end to a practice that any reasonable person should find abhorrent. But if that's what it takes, so be it. Gruniad

Previous: California Prisons: I wouldn't Put These Blokes In Charge of My Dog


Anonymous said...

"When you ask a prison official why women are shackled when they are in transit or away from the facility, the answer will invariably be because that is standard prison procedure and that leg irons, handcuffs and belly chains are necessary to prevent the prisoner escaping and to protect the public."

Completely insane. Those male and possibly FEMALE prison officials should be locked up.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The shackling of women who are in labour and giving birth is positively medieval, and exceptionally cruel. Only a monster could come up with such a practice. Anyone who has given birth or supported a mother during this time in her life, knows that women in labour pose no security or escape risk. It is for the benefit of both mom and baby that labouring mothers be able to move around, shift their weight, stand up, and walk around the birthing room if they feel the need to. Restricting the womans movement can be dangerous for her and her baby. Not to mention the egregious emotional harm being done to the woman - harm which is sure to last as long as her memories of the birth.

Though the below article is an American story, this is a practice which takes place in Canada as well.


Anonymous said...

Shackled and detained, a pregnant woman's story.

"There was a female sheriff with me on Sunday afternoon. When the nurse asked her if I could go to the bathroom, she said no. When the nurse asked why, she said this is my job. She can only go to the bathroom with cuffs on her feet.

"On Tuesday, the nurse brought me a breast pump to remove milk. She asked permission for me to take it to the jail and again the sheriff said no, she cannot take it with her."


Himself said...

"When I got there, I was handcuffed with one hand. At the last minute, before I gave birth, I was unshackled so that my feet were free. Then after I gave birth to him, the shackles went back on and the handcuffs stayed on while I held my son on my chest."
That treatment, she recalled later, was "the most egregious, dehumanizing, oppressive practice that I ever experienced while in prison."

"the most egregious, dehumanizing, oppressive practice that I ever experienced

"the most egregious, dehumanizing, oppressive practice that I ever experienced

Himself said...

When the nurse asked why, she said this is my job. She can only go to the bathroom with cuffs on her feet.

this is my job

this is my job

"I was only following orders."

The common theme throughout all these stories, ignorance apart, control and humiliation.

For a mother to be constrained in such a manner, regardless of all the other circumstances surrounding the women at the time, good or bad, mainly bad I should imagine, is unacceptable without exception.

Childbirth is a defining moment in any woman's life. It is a time that is between a mother and her baby no matter what.

I don't think we can begin to imagine what it must be like, and what the psychological harm must be, for a mother to deliver a baby under such conditions.

I was about to say, medieval conditions, but that would be incorrect, and an insult to the period.

Himself said...

OT The Bogeyman rolled out once again.

Republicans Accuse Anti-Coal Activist of "Child Pornography" for Showing Kid Bathing in Polluted Water


Anonymous said...


Yes, projection. Sigh. M

Well, of course he would. It's the perfect way to change the subject of corporations' stealing and destroying the entire environment for a quick and dirty profit. (luzmejor)

Himself said...

This is the same country don't forget, that arrests fifteen year old girls that sext topless pictures of themselves, and charges them with distributing child porn.

They are seriously fucked up when it comes down to sex.