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Advocates Applaud Governor Deval Patrick’s Emergency Regulations Prohibiting the Shackling of Pregnant Women

Mass. Anti-Shackling Coalition joins the Governor in urging legislators to pass S.2012 this session
Contact:
Megan Amundson, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, 617-556-8800 x12
Gavi Wolfe, ACLU of Massachusetts, 617-694-9177

Boston, MA –Today, Governor Deval Patrick filed emergency regulations to prohibit the practice of shackling pregnant incarcerated women. The Governor also called on the Massachusetts legislature to pass the Anti-Shackling Bill (S.2012), a bill that prohibits the practice of shackling pregnant women in our jails and prisons. Senate Bill 2012, based on legislation originally filed by Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan, was reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Public Safety earlier this week.

"Shackling pregnant women is unsafe and inhumane, and it is shocking that this practice continues in 2014,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. "We applaud the Governor’s initiative to prohibit this barbaric practice and join him in urging Massachusetts lawmakers to send the Anti-Shackling Bill to his desk to be signed into law this session and ensure consistent basic medical standards to support healthy pregnancies and deliveries for all pregnant women in the Commonwealth.”

The emergency regulations were filed at the end of the day today and prohibit the county Houses of Correction from shackling pregnant inmates during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters at the ankle and waist, during labor and childbirth, and immediately postpartum. Once filed, emergency regulations are in effect for 90 days. After 90 days, without further action, the regulations will expire.

"Governor Patrick has shown terrific leadership by filing these emergency regulations. Now it's time for the legislature to put a definitive end to the shackling of pregnant women in the Commonwealth," said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel at the ACLU of Massachusetts."Lawmakers need to act now to make sure these regulations do not sunset. They should make our laws clear: shackling pregnant women is unacceptable."

Shackling is unsafe for both the woman and her baby. During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, handcuffs and leg irons increase the risk of falling and injury. During labor and delivery, restraints interfere with medical professionals' ability to adequately care for their patients, especially in emergency situations. Shackling women post-partum can lead to an increased risk in blood clots.

"I was handcuffed by both my wrist and my ankle to the hospital stretcher for over eighteen hours while I was in labor,” said Michelle, a former prisoner at MCI-Framingham. "I was in a secure hospital room, with two guards, one of them armed, and they kept me handcuffed to the bed. I wasn’t even allowed to walk around during my delivery to ease the pain.” Michelle’s family was never notified by the prison when her son was born.

"I gave birth to a son on January 23, 2013,” said Kenzie, a member of the Prison Birth Project who was incarcerated at the time and requested that her last name not be used. "The staff at the jail did not believe I was in a late stage of labor and kept me shackled while I was in the jail, in transit, and even once I got to the hospital. We left the jail at 9:50am. My son was born at 10:01am. Only in the emergency room did I finally convince the correctional officer to take off my handcuffs. Immediately after I delivered, I was hand cuffed and shackled by the ankles again to go to the bathroom and shower.”

The Massachusetts Anti-Shackling Coalition, made up of medical practitioners, human rights organization, women’s groups, and faith leaders, is urging the Massachusetts legislature to create a uniform law that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation unless they present a specific safety or flight risk.

"We deliver women in locked hospital wards with armed correctional officers,” said Rachna Vanjani, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Boston Medical Center who provides medical care to incarcerated women. "I have never once feared for my safety. Women enter labor and delivery triage in active labor still shackled to the stretcher. I see it as my role to advocate for them to be unhandcuffed—and even then, we sometimes get pushback from the guards. It depends on what correctional facility they’re coming from.”

Leading medical and public health organizations―including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care―oppose the shackling of pregnant women, particularly during labor and childbirth. Federal courts have expressly condemned shackling women during labor as cruel and unusual punishment.

The Joint Committee on Public Safety recently gave a favorable report to Senate Bill 2012,which would codify the new emergency ban in statute and would also define minimum standards of care for pregnant women in the Commonwealth's custody. The bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means today.

"Shackling pregnant women interferes with a physician’s ability to treat mothers and their newborns, and it is an inhumane, unacceptable practice,” said Senator Karen Spilka, sponsor of the bill. "This bill is an important and necessary step toward improving reproductive health for female prisoners and ensuring safe, healthy outcomes for women and their babies.”

The coalition urges the legislature to take swift action in passing the Anti-Shackling Bill and protect the health of incarcerated women and their children.



Members of the Massachusetts Anti-Shackling Coalition Include:

ACLU of Massachusetts
Black and Pink
Boston Feminists for Liberation
Families for Justice as Healing
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts
National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
Prison Birth Project
Prisoner’s Legal Services
The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women
Real Costs of Prisons
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

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