The Outrageous Shackling of Pregnant Inmates
Although it is estimated that only about 2,000 prisoners in American correctional facilities give birth each year, the issue raises a broader concern about excessively punitive aspects of prison culture. Democratic and Republican politicians alike have pushed for anti-shackling legislation. Doctors have called shackling a threat to the health of both mother and child. Criminologists have deemed it unnecessary, as it appears that no unshackled pregnant inmate has ever escaped during labor.
But in many correctional systems, doctors, guards and prison officials simply are not told about anti-shackling laws, or are not trained to comply. In Illinois, improperly trained guards continued to shackle women for years after such a law was passed in 1999. After some 80 prisoners in Cook County brought a class-action lawsuit, the state in 2012 passed legislation strengthening protections in the county. (The suit was settled for $4.1 million.) But downstate, an unpublished survey of county jails by Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers cites 20 institutions that don’t have written policies that fully comply with the statewide law. Corrections officials would not comment on these allegations but said that they expect each county facility to meet all existing standards.