Washington State Bans Shackling of Incarcerated Women in Labor and Post-Delivery

By Rachel Walden — March 29, 2010

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire last week signed into law a bill that forbids the routine shackling of pregnant women in and after labor, making it one of a handful of states that ban the practice.

The law, which takes effect June 10, states that no restraints of any kind may be used on a pregnant woman during transporation to and from medical visits or court proceedings during the third trimester of pregnancy or during postpartum recovery. It also stipulates that “no restraints of any kinds may be used” during labor or childbirth.

Exceptions of “extraordinary circumstances” during transportation are permitted; these exceptions are defined as necessary to prevent the woman from escaping, or from injuring herself or others, and for hospital use of medical restraints for patient/provider safety. In these cases, restraints are required to be the least restrictive available, and leg irons or waist chains are not allowed under any circumstances.

The law also forbids correctional personnel from being present in the room during labor and birth and places the power to remove restraints in the hands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel over that of the correctional officers.

According to the Seattle Times, the state’s Department of Corrections and prisons already had policies banning restraint during labor and delivery, but the legislation adds restrictions regarding restraining women post-delivery. The Times also describes a court case involving a complaint about the 2007 shackling of a woman during labor and for three days following delivery. Legal Voice provides additional detail on that case.

Amnesty International provides further information about the status of shackling policies and laws throughout the United States. One update to the AI report: In 2009, New York Gov. David Paterson signed into law a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated women before and after they give birth while in custody.

4 responses to “Washington State Bans Shackling of Incarcerated Women in Labor and Post-Delivery”

  1. That there even has to be that kind of legislation is disgusting. OF COURSE you don’t shackle a pregnant woman, in labour, delivering or post-labour. It’s common fucking sense!

  2. I worked in an inner-city hospital ICU for several years. It is common to shackle prisoners to the bed, and have a guard posted at bedside. However, most of the county jail patients I had were men sleeping off ODs, and were most definitely only too happy to tear out their IV, throw their tray, and scream obscenities at the nursing staff. I was always happy to have a guard in the room with those shenanigans.

    Labor and delivery is vastly different, however. Having a guard posted outside the door should be sufficient.

  3. While I also believe that it is true that we should not have to have legislation for issues such as these, that common sense should prevail…the truth is that it doesn’t so the fact that our legislation is making laws like these is a step forward in that they are contributing to the cause of women’s rights, no matter how small that step may seem.

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