Improve Conditions of Confinement

In most state prisons and local jails, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women when they are in labor and when they deliver their children. Only six states have statutes regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women: California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Vermont. In the other 44 other states, and the District of Columbia, no such laws exist. This routine use of restraints on pregnant women, particularly on women in labor and giving birth, constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading and practice that rarely can be justified in terms of security concerns.

The practice of shackling pregnant mothers in labor and delivery is also dangerous to the health and well-being of both the mother and child. There are currently no specific data on the number of women who have miscarried due to the strenuous shackling procedures. Obstetricians recognize that women who are in labor need to be able to freely move around and be free to assume different positions during birthing, and that to restrain or shackle renders a mother and her child more vulnerable to complications.

The use of shackles and restraints on pregnant women during labor and delivery is especially cruel in light of who these mothers are. They are not violent offenders, guilty of violent crimes like murder, rape, or assault. Nearly 71 percent of all arrests of women are for non-violent larceny and theft or drug-related offenses. While violent offenses are the primary factor in the growth of the male prison population, that is not at all the case for women. For them, non-violent drug offenses are the largest source of growth.

Pregnant inmates are placed in the inherently violent condition of being restrained or shackled during labor, while they deliver their children, and post-delivery. The Rebecca Project has even documented stories of mothers, their bodies still sore from a C-section birth, subjected to shackles placed around their stomachs. In every case of a mother who is shackled during labor and delivery, the baby is taken from her, often 24 hours after the baby’s birth.