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

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.

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