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Tennessee and Virginia Agree: Stop Shackling Pregnant Women

Diana Kasdan,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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August 19, 2011

Women’s dignity was vindicated twice in a double dose of justice on Thursday. A federal jury in Tennessee awarded Juana Villegas $200,000 as compensation for the suffering she endured when the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office unconstitutionally shackled her to her delivery bed in 2008.

Meanwhile, just across the state line in Virginia (which failed to enact anti-shackling legislation earlier this year), Delegate Patrick Hope, of the Virginia General Assembly , and anti-shackling advocates announced that the Virginia Department of Corrections has agreed to implement regulations prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and post-partum recovery.

These two actions are just the latest in a string of actions this year recognizing that shackling women during labor and delivery is not only inhumane but is bad for the health of women and their babies. Earlier this year, four states — Hawaii, Rhode Island, Idaho and Nevada — passed laws to eliminate this inhumane and unconstitutional practice, and recently a federal court held that shackling violates the Constitution.

Clearly, people are finally getting the message.

While there’s good cause to stop and celebrate this week, we still have plenty to do. Davidson County is appealing the verdict, and the Virginia legislature has yet to pass a law that will protect all women who are incarcerated — such as those in local jails and detention facilities not protected by the DOC policy. That’s why the ACLU will continue its work across the country to end this barbaric practice and protect the health of women prisoners and their babies.

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