By Andrea Bos, 2010 summer intern
Imagine being shackled to a bed while giving birth. This medically risky practice is supposed to be history in Texas prisons and jails. Unfortunately, as we learned, it is not.
In 2009, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Jail Project successfully lobbied the state legislature for passage of HB 3653, a law banning the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during labor, delivery and recovery. HB 3653 went into effect last September.
But, there is still work to be done. Between March and May 2010, two inmates in Dallas County Jail reported to Elisabeth Holland, an advance practice nurse and director of Project Matthew, that they were shackled while in labor on the way to the hospital. The women also reported that once they arrived at the hospital, medical staff sometimes had to ask officers to remove the shackles so they could draw blood and perform other procedures.
To help end this inhumane treatment of pregnant inmates in a Texas county jails, join the ACLU of Texas and Texas Jail Project at the August 5th Texas Commission on Jail Standards meeting (see the agenda) where we will propose new standards.
Ms. Holland said in an interview that shackling is not only dehumanizing, but also has larger social implications. As Ms. Holland stated, “If you already have a woman that has had barriers to attachment with her child and then you make labor an unpleasant experience, then you really set this mother up to be detached from her baby.”
From a medical perspective, Ms. Holland stated that shackling makes giving birth, a naturally difficult task, more difficult by restricting a woman’s range of motion, thus endangering both woman and child. In emergency situations, seconds can be the difference between life and death. When caring for a flatlining mother or child, pausing to remove shackles prior to relocating the patient(s) to emergency care areas of the medical center can be life threatening.
County jails have a mandate to keep the public safe, which has traditionally been interpreted to mean that all inmates outside of the jail must be shackled. The problem is that “you don’t really think about why you are taking these people out. No one really talked about … pregnant women” when this policy was established, said Ms. Holland. Most women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Additionally, a woman in the throes of labor or delivery is unlikely to try, and is probably not even capable of, escaping. Instead of ensuring safety, shackling accomplishes the opposite by putting the life and health of both mother and her wholly innocent child at risk.
If you or someone you know is pregnant in a Texas Jail and you or they would like to share the experience, please contact the Texas Jail Project. It is past time for such horrific practices to end.