New Bill Would Ensure No Woman Is Forced to Give Birth in Chains

When a woman becomes pregnant, the nature of her health care by necessity becomes tailored to her being pregnant. This is no less true when a pregnant woman is incarcerated. But corrections officials across the nation would often rather ignore the fact and needs of incarcerated pregnant women than address their health care needs or even their basic rights. For example, pregnant prisoners are often shackled during childbirth in this country as well as put in solitary confinement, practices that are as shocking as they are pervasive. 

When a woman goes to prison or jail, the criminal justice system is very likely to treat her not as a woman with needs particular to women, but as a smaller, more docile man. And they are treated that way even when they are in a hospital setting. This is flawed, and its consequences are great. 

Male prisoners are routinely shackled when taken to a hospital when they are considered a flight risk. The reason this rubric has extended to women is not because anyone has thought about the needs and realities of incarcerated women, but because male prisoners are the baseline for all criminal justice and corrections policies. This one-size-fits-all approach puts women at severe and unnecessary risk. 

Fortunately, there is now a bipartisan effort in Congress to begin eliminating dangerous and degrading practices for pregnant women. The Pregnant Women in Custody Act (PWCA) places strict limits on the use of shackles and solitary confinement on pregnant women in federal prison and in the custody of the United States Marshals Service. It also sets forth basic standards for pregnancy care. 

Importantly, the bill mandates that the federal government start collecting data on incarcerated women who are pregnant. Because, unbelievably, in a country that lionizes the power of big data for criminal justice, we don’t even know the number of pregnant women in our prisons and jails. 

Let’s think again about a pregnant woman as a flight risk similar to that of an incarcerated man at a hospital. Imagine a woman in the midst of childbirth leaping from her bed, running down the hall, and escaping from the hospital — while trying to deliver a baby. Unsurprisingly, there is no recorded incidence of such a thing ever occurring. 

Yet in America women are still forced to give birth in chains. Shackling women during childbirth is not only demeaning; it’s dangerous for the mother and the child. That’s why the American Medical Association, the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, and the American Public Health Association have condemned the practice. Still, 24 states and the federal government have no laws that limit the use of shackles on pregnant women prisoners. 

Here’s another dirty secret — pregnant women are actually put in solitary confinement. That’s why the fact that the PWCA prevents this barbaric practice on women from the time they are known to be pregnant to the conclusion of postpartum recovery, with a very narrow security exception, is so critical. 

It is a popular misconception that solitary confinement is used to house only people in prison who have committed the most grievous crimes or who pose a threat to themselves, other prisoners, or prison staff. The truth is solitary is often used indiscriminately and, worse, specifically on the most vulnerable populations in prison, including pregnant women. 

The placement of pregnant women in solitary confinement is harmful and exacerbates the difficulties they already face in trying to get adequate pregnancy care while in prison. Such isolation is also well known to wreak extreme psychological harms on all people. 

Pregnancy often carries with it greater risks of stress and depression which can be enormously exacerbated by the psychological impacts of being placed in solitary confinement. Such stress on a pregnant woman may result in grave harms to a woman and her fetus, including miscarriage, heightened risk of infection, preterm labor, and low birth weight. 

I’ve been to solitary confinement units where women are held. I’ve seen psychotic women rocking back and forth in their cells, women talking to imaginary friends, and obviously pregnant women terrified they’ll give birth alone in a cell. I once asked a corrections official who claimed he was reforming the practice of solitary confinement across his system why he had no reform plans for the women’s unit. He looked surprised and told me he had just forgotten about the women. 

And, in just a few short words, the need for the Pregnant Women in Custody Act becomes crystal clear. 

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P.S. to Serious...

For the man who took my fathers life from him.
The absolute least I EXPECT from our system of “Justice” is the destruction of that mans of dignity.
If you can honestly tell me, or, if given the opportunity, look me in the eyes and say to me that I should forgo what LITTLE sense of Justice I get from knowing that man will be treated like S**T in prision, because their is a possibility that someone somewhere within the US penal system might be innocent. If you can do that, well you’ve got much bigger ovaries (men-balls) than I.
I could not deny a person or family what little miniscual tidbit of Justice our legal system allows us to legally have .
Our nations grand illusion on Justice is reprehensible.
We are all left grasping onto nothing more than the hope that true ultimate justice is served to all in the end.
Believers and none believers have to choice in this system but to accept this as their vengeance or end up incarcerated along side their enemy.
Believers or non believers, our judicial system does little to behest a sense of solace, meaning, purpose, understanding, closure, or justification for the pain inflicted by the guilty onto the victims and their families.
It may make me weak. It may make me a bad person. It may make me a lot of things.
But that mans jail sentence and he’ll he will live serving it, is merely a start to what he owes me.
It may be my perspective,
but to ask me to give away any of the so called Justice I’ve gotten for what he’s done just seems preposterous.
Selfish maybe
But I did not create our judicial system
I did not create the disparity between our social classes NOR do I participate in or support the ongoing systemic efforts of the rich rich to keep the status quo.
This is our country and that is the only Justice I can get.

Anonymous

Feminists want women to be equal to men, then they should be treated just like the male prisoners. I'm not getting this "have your cake and eat it to" way of thinking when it comes to women's rights. If men have to be in chains when they're hospitalized, then why shouldn't woman? Either you're equal, or you're not.

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