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House to Consider Bill to Ban Shackling of Pregnant Inmates Print

Del. Hope’s Legislation Would Treat Inmates and Their Unborn Babies with Dignity

RICHMOND - Tomorrow, a House subcommittee will consider legislation, HB 1488, seeking to prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor, transport to a medical facility, delivery, or postpartum recovery in the commonwealth's correctional facilities.  Patroned by Delegate Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), this legislation is praised by health care professionals and a chorus of advocates in favor of protecting the health of a female inmate and her pregnancy.

"Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane.  Excessively restraining prisoners and detainees during pregnancy increases their chances of accidentally tripping or falling, and harming their pregnancies,” said Del. Patrick Hope.”  Hope continued, “During labor and postpartum recovery, shackling can interfere with appropriate medical care and can be detrimental to the health of the woman and her newborn child."

Ten other states have signed similar legislation into law.  If HB 1488 passes both the House and Senate, Virginia would also join California, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia among the states that have banned the practice via state law.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the federal Marshalls Service also have policies that block the shackling of inmates during childbirth.  Public health professionals, including the American Public Health Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose the practice and support bills to ban it.

HB 1488 is modeled after a Resolution (see below) unanimously adopted by the American Medical Association in their June 2010 Annual Meeting.

"The vast majority of female prisoners are non-violent offenders who pose a low security risk—particularly during labor and postpartum recovery," said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union of VA (ACLU-VA).

"In the states that have outlawed shackling of pregnant inmates, there have been no documented instances of a woman in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, security guards or medical staff."

While advocates are not able to quantify how many times inmates in childbirth have been shackled in Virginia’s prisons, there is enough national anecdotal evidence to indicate the need for the legislation, Greenier said.  Many states, including Virginia’s Department of Corrections, don’t make available statistics on when or how pregnant inmates are restrained.

“We hope the Virginia legislature will take notice of the harm to the mother and baby’s health when the mother is restrained in this way," Carla Peterson, Director of VA Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (VA-CURE) said. "It is simply an inhumane and unsafe practice."

This bill is supported by the American Medical Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Virginia Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Legal Aid Justice Center, ACLU of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice-Virginia, Planned Parenthood-Virginia, VA CURE, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Patrick A. Hope is a Member of the Virginia General Assembly as the Delegate from the 47th District representing part of Arlington County.  He serves on the House Courts of Justice Committee and House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee.


Media Contact:

Mary P. Dooley, Legislative Assistant

Delegate Patrick Hope

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H-420.957 Shackling of Pregnant Women in Labor

1. Our AMA supports language recently adopted by the New Mexico legislature that “an adult or juvenile correctional facility, detention center or local jail shall use the least restrictive restraints necessary when the facility has actual or constructive knowledge that an inmate is in the 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy. No restraints of any kind shall be used on an inmate who is in labor, delivering her baby or recuperating from the delivery unless there are compelling grounds to believe that the inmate presents:

- An immediate and serious threat of harm to herself, staff or others; or

- A substantial flight risk and cannot be reasonably contained by other means.

If an inmate who is in labor or who is delivering her baby is restrained, only the least restrictive restraints necessary to ensure safety and security shall be used.”

2. Our AMA will develop model state legislation prohibiting the use of shackles on pregnant women unless flight or safety concerns exist. (Res. 203, A-10)