"Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act"

We often use this blog to explore some of the terrible decisions made by policy makers, elected officials and private prison personnel. Today, however, we have something to celebrate in Florida.

Thanks to Representative Betty Reed (D-Hillsborough), House Bill 367, prohibiting the use of restraints (shackles) on incarcerated women in labor, delivery and recovery, passed in a 114 to 1 vote in the House.  Only Darryl Ervin Rouson  (D-St Petersburg) voted against the bill. Previously, Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and her colleagues passed the identical Senate bill, SB 524, in a unanimous decision.

When the bill becomes effective in July of this year, Florida will become the first southern state to ban the shackling of pregnant women in their third trimester and during childbirth.  That leaves thirty-five states across this country that allow the shackling of pregnant and birthing women.

Obstetricians recognize that women in labor need to be able to freely move and assume various positions during birthing, and that to restrain or shackle renders a mother and her child more vulnerable to complications. During the final stages of labor it is especially important for the physician to act quickly in order to avoid potentially life-threatening emergencies for both the baby and mother. Shackles severely limit this ability and add an unacceptable and unnecessary threat to the survival of the child and mother. Additionally, the vast majority of women are nonviolent offenders and the physical and mental burdens of childbirth mean that women present almost no security or flight risk at that time. In fact, since similar legislation passed in other states starting over a decade ago, there have been absolutely no instances of violence or flight.

Summary

Restraint of Incarcerated Pregnant Women; Cites act as "Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act"; prohibits use of restraints on prisoner known to be pregnant during labor, delivery, & postpartum recovery unless corrections official makes individualized determination that prisoner presents extraordinary circumstance; authorizes officer to apply restraints after consulting with medical staff; requires restraint to be in least restrictive manner; requires written findings as to extraordinary circumstance requiring restraints; restricts use of certain restraints during 3rd trimester unless significant security concerns are documented; requires that findings be kept on file for specified minimum period; authorizes woman restrained in violation of act to file grievance; directs DOC & DJJ to adopt rules; requires correctional institutions to inform female prisoners of such rules. Effective Date: July 1, 2012

We should not tolerate this barbaric practice that affects both mothers and their children. Under no circumstances should leg irons or handcuffs or belly chains be used on any pregnant woman who is in labor, delivery or recovery.

Please go to our website and sign our anti-shackling petition at http://www.grassrootsleadership.org/petition/