ACLU Works to End Barbaric Practice of Shackling Pregnant Women Prisoners

Shackling pregnant women during active labor and childbirth is, unfortunately, all too common in our nation’s prisons and jails. One such victim of this practice was Shawanna Nelson, who entered the Arkansas prison system when she was six months’ pregnant, with a short sentence for a non-violent crime. When she went into labor, the correctional officer accompanying her shackled her legs to opposite sides of the bed, and removed the shackles only long enough for the nurses to examine her. Ms. Nelson remained with both her legs shackled to the bed until she was taken to the delivery room, and she was re-shackled immediately after the birth of her son, who weighed almost ten pounds. The shackles caused Ms. Nelson to suffer cramps and intense pain, as she could not adjust her position during contractions. After childbirth, the use of shackles caused her to soil the sheets, because she could not be unshackled quickly enough to get to a bathroom. The correctional officer knew that Ms. Nelson was not a flight risk, and knew that the restraints caused pain and unsanitary conditions. According to expert obstetricians, shackling women during labor is inherently dangerous.

A federal district judge ruled that a jury should decide whether Ms. Nelson’s treatment violated the Eighth Amendment, but the defendants appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel reversed the district court and dismissed Ms. Nelson’s case. With the help of the ACLU's National Prison Project (NPP), Ms. Nelson was able to persuade the court of appeals to grant rehearing before the entire court and in September 2008 NPP staff argued on Ms. Nelson’s behalf that her case should go to trial. We await a decision.

Meanwhile, the ACLU works to persuade prisons and jails to end this barbaric practice. The National Prison Project, together with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, the Women’s Rights Project, and many of our state affiliates are part of a national coalition advocating for changes in policy and law at the federal and state level. To date, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals’ Service have both issued policies severely limiting the shackling of pregnant women and several state legislatures are now considering bills to limit or end the practice. Our policy and advocacy work continues to raise national awareness about efforts to ban shackling of pregnant women prisoners across the country. In addition we continue to negotiate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure that pregnant women held as immigration detainees in federal, state and local facilities are not subject to this cruel and degrading practice.

Learn more about how pregnant women prisoners are treated in your state.

View comments (19)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

"If this painful, unfair and out of control experience has not forever mentally scarred this woman, it has certainly given her enough reason to hate and resent authority. I’m sure that will only encourage her to not abide the law when she is released".

So I am thinking you would also claim that having her baby removed from her while she is in jail wouls also make her hate the BIG MEAN AUTHORITY? This should also cover all Mothers in jail? Or should they just pick and choose wich of the unabiding Mothers should not be shackeled? Who should choose them that are not. Then what keep an armed guard in there all the while? What I am thinking is lets just let all the mothers to be off so this will not be a problem. I bet you think that it harmed you to be locked in your room or made to sit in the corner when you did wrong as a child? God forbid that you were spanked!

Anonymous

As someone who worked in prison for six years, all prisoners are shackled at all times outside of prison. One can safely assume that she was giving birth outside of prison in a "free-world" hospital. It is policy for inmates to be shackled outside the prison walls. This is in order to protect society from the possible escape of the inmate. After all, society sent her to prison so the prison's best interest is to make sure she stays there. Violent or not, laws are laws. She couldn't obey the simple laws in society so therefore, she is in prison shackled to a bed. Quit bitching about it.

Ralph

Wouldnt the ACLU find it better to spend time on important stuff. Like what kind of dresses men can wear in public. If its alright to expose yourself in front of 3 year old boys if they ask. If someone needs to be restrained for the protection of guards so be it. Most people in prison are violent thats why they are there. The only good thing that could come from this is for the law to be pasted. That way if a guard gets injured they can sue your pants off

Steve

Hey f, please watch your mouth. The far-left ACLU may get off on language like that, but decent folks do not

Bilski

No one in childbirth should be shacked, whether in active labor or for 12 hours afterward. Anyone who thinks otherwise is purblind, socially feral, or otherwise unsuited to living in cities with others. I don't care what she did--the shackling is ridiculously idiotic and reckless.

Penelope

I thought prison was a place to punishment someone for a CRIME. Jeez, our prisons are a joke. Deterent for crime? Hah, the prisoners run the prisons and we are now at THEIR mercy lest we be sued if they break a fingernail!
Crybaby libs have ruined our country.

me

Some lawyer saw dollar signs and went to her to persue a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas. She was serving time for identity fraud and writing bad checks. I'm sure the person whose identity she stole was wishing bad things on her. Their wish came true!

She claims the shakles caused sciatic nerve damage and chronic back pain. Sorry honey, I got both of those from giving birth and I wasn't shakled. It's the size of the baby that caused both of those.

I think instead of the state paying for the doctor bills, they should just let the women out into the exercise lot and let em squat and have that baby. Maybe then they'd think twice about stealing from someone! I have no sympathy for criminals.

Jeremy

Penelope is correct!!!!! Prisoners have it better then most people anymore. NO ONE is scared of prison anymore. Prisoners should be treated like prisoners. If it was more like prison maybe one thinking of a commiting a crime would think twice about it???? I am personally tired of our stupid arrogant justice system.

Reality is Nice

You "righties" are moaning because you're jealous that "the least among us" is treated w/ dignity and respect (or expected to be) while you sit there hating your lives, hating your jobs, with your 2.3 kids, loveless sex lives, and valium addicted spouses.

You are some hate-filled folks.

Most people may not care either way about this woman but they also wouldn't take the time to leave comments here. Others may care a great deal about her situation and others like her.

But you people who write a comment to express your vitriol and disdain...? Seems to me if you were not filled with anger in your own lives you'd either keep moving on to another article or website that is "more pleasing."

I have no opinion on this article either way. Sure I have mild thoughts about it but not as powerful as this one: "I am amazed at the hate in these comments."

This woman is clearly a symbol of something that threatens you and so you take your anger out on the thought of her. And all she did was commit some financial fraud while pregnant, get caught, went to jail for it and had her baby? Certainly were I emotionally imbalanced I would be enraged over this as well.

(But I bet government sanctioned 1st degree murder is worthy of a medal, eh?)

Reality. It's nice here.

Pages

Stay Informed