Monday, September 7, 2009

Unshackling Child Birth for Incarcerated Women

New York State decided late last month to end the practice or chaining pregnant incarcerated women to their hospital beds during childbirth. The practice, called "shackling", has been outlawed by the New York State Legislature and Governor Paterson. New York is the sixth state in the US to outlaw shackling.

Health and Safety During Childbirth

New Yorkers should be proud that New York is one of the first states in the United States to outlaw the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth.

Until now, pregnant women were routinely shackled during childbirth. Advocates for incarcerated women, such as the Correctional Association of New York, have led the fight for the safety of these women and the elimination of the shackling activity throughout the state. The Correctional Association interviewed women who were shackled during childbirth and has allowed all of us to read there stories. The American Public Health Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Women’s Association, and American College of Nurse Midwives all supported the imposition of restrictions on shackling pregnant women in prison.

While some may object to the ability of incarcerated women to give birth without being chained to their beds, we should all remember that 83% of women in New York State prisons are non-violent offenders, that 84% of women in New York State prisons are first-time offenders, and that 75% of women in prison were victims of domestic violence. These women are, with few exceptions, not a threat to themselves, their babies, or to the hospital personnel. The new law allows for precautions to be taken in special circumstances and recognizes that exceptions are necessary.

Childbirth is traumatic and stressful without shackles; it is not a realistic opportunity for escape or to attack others physically. In the states that have eliminated the practice of shackling women during childbirth, there have been no escape attempts.

Paterson's Support

Governor Paterson attended a rally in mid-August in support of the legislation that outlawed the shackling of women during childbirth. His willingness to lead and his eagerness to address the needs of a somewhat unpopular constituency (incarcerated women and their unborn children) deserve special praise. Whatever his faults, Governor Paterson has proven to be a consistent and valuable force for addressing longstanding problems in our state's criminal justice system. He signed the legislation repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and he rallied for and signed the legislation that enhances the likelihood of successful childbirth for incarcerated women and their children. The achievements should not go unnoticed.

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