Open Records Suit Filed Against Department Of Corrections Over Policies Governing Pregnant Prisoners

February 1, 2010 12:00 am

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Open Records Suit Filed Against Department Of Corrections Over Policies Governing Pregnant Prisoners


PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island ACLU and the R.I. Chapter of the National Organization for Women have today filed an open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections (DOC), contesting the agency’s refusal to release its policies relating to the use of restraints on women prisoners when they are in labor, delivering a baby or in post-delivery recuperation. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Neal McNamara and Jillian Folger-Hartwell, seeks a court order releasing the requested documents, imposition of a fine and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Issues surrounding the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners by correctional institutions have been the subject of recent public debate nationwide. In an effort to examine the propriety of Rhode Island’s practices, the RI ACLU filed an open records request last September with the DOC to obtain its policies and procedures on the subject. Citing “security” reasons, however, the Department refused to release the documents. The DOC did acknowledge, though, that most pregnant women are handcuffed while being transported to, and while in bed recovering from labor at, the hospital.

The lawsuit notes that RI NOW and RI ACLU “share an interest in reviewing and analyzing the requested [DOC] policies and procedures and advocating for changes to them in order to better promote the health, safety and well-being of pregnant women prisoners,” but have been precluded from doing so due to the DOC’s refusal to release the documents.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown noted: “Correctional agencies across the country – including the federal Bureau of Prisons – have publicly promulgated policies that explain their practices on the treatment of pregnant prisoners. There is no legitimate rationale for Rhode Island to rely on alleged security concerns to prevent interested persons from reviewing policies of such public importance.” RI NOW President Carolyn Mark added: “RI NOW has been very troubled by recent reports from around the country of pregnant inmates being shackled while in labor. Our desire to get information from the Department of Corrections is simply to help make sure that Rhode Island’s practices protect women’s health and safety to the greatest extent possible.”

Both the RI ACLU and RI NOW have expressed interest in introducing legislation in the General Assembly this year to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners, making access to the DOC’s current policies particularly critical.

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