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Victory: No More Shackles on Pregnant Prisoners

Alicia M. Walters,
ACLU of Northern California
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October 5, 2012

Originally posted by the ACLU of Northern California.

We did it. After years of work from the ACLU of California and our allies, dangerous shackles and restraints can no longer be used on pregnant women in our state’s prisons and jails. Last week Governor Brown signed AB 2530, authored by Assemblymember Atkins, after it passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

In 2005 California became one of the first states to prohibit the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor, delivery, and recovery after childbirth. Now, we can proudly say that California has taken another step forward to protect the health of incarcerated women – this time by prohibiting shackling throughout pregnancy.

In 2010, I teamed up with other legislative novices to try to extend the law. It seemed obvious to us: pregnant women are the most vulnerable and the least threatening in the prison system and should rarely, if ever, be restrained.

Every legislator, reporter, and average person we spoke with agreed. In fact, the legislature unanimously supported the bill two years in a row but, each year, law enforcement found a new reason to oppose. Lobbyists argued that they couldn’t create standards for how women were transported, that it was too expensive and unnecessary. We tried to accommodate the opposition, yet the two previous versions of the bill were vetoed, first by Governor Schwarzenegger and then by Governor Brown.

Despite the discouraging vetoes, we resolved that 2012 would be our year. Taking care to address the governor’s 2011 veto message, we studied other states’ laws and talked with law enforced about their use of restraints. We also talked to doctors and gathered stories from women who endured falls and injuries as a result of being shackled while pregnant. Even law enforcement was eventually fine with the bill.

In the final weeks of September, our stomachs were in knots. After two years of surprising and disappointing vetoes, we worried about what could happen at the eleventh hour. We sent nearly 6,000 letters to the Governor, blogged and filled an aviary full of tweets. Was it enough?

YES! It is with great pride that I can now say that, in the state of California, the most dangerous forms of restraints can no longer be used on pregnant women in jail or prison. I can proudly report that doctors will no longer have to argue with guards over the removal of restraints. And every pregnant woman and juvenile in this system must be informed of these rights.

While we allow ourselves to celebrate an important victory for women across California, we are all too aware of how much more work must be done--from implementation of the law to tackling the cycle of incarceration.

We keep working toward those goals, but in this moment, we can hold our heads just a little higher knowing we once again have a revolutionary law, long overdue. Better late than never.

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