The Eighth Amendment of our Constitution explicitly prohibits any cruel or unusual punishment from being imposed, and yet, we see examples of this throughout our criminal justice system. From use of the death penalty to solitary confinement and inadequate provision of medical care, America's enormous prison system has a reputation for its terrible conditions.
Today, my focus is on the shackling of pregnant women. This is particularly relevant as this Friday, April 17th, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee of the Maine Legislature will hold a public hearing on a bill that would prohibit this practice in Maine. LD 1013, An Act to Prevent the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners, sponsored by Senator Haskell of Cumberland, would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women in Maine prisons and jails, except under extraordinary circumstances.
Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane and poses undue health risks to both the woman and her pregnancy. Shackling pregnant women increases their chances of accidentally tripping or falling and harming their pregnancies. During medical visits restraints can interfere with the administration of proper care. Particularly, shackles during labor and post-partum get in the way of administration of care by medical professionals endangering the safety of both woman and her newborn, constituting deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs - in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Beyond the safety and health risks, shackling pregnant women is completely unnecessary. Women are overwhelmingly incarcerated for non-violent crimes and represent a low security risk. In states that have outlawed shackling of pregnant prisoners there have been no documented instances of a woman trying to escape or cause harm to anyone.
Nationally, there is a movement to prohibit this harmful practice, supported by medical professionals, corrections administrators and civil rights advocates. Today, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has banned the shackling of pregnant prisoners and 21 states now have laws on the books limiting or prohibiting the practice in state facilities as well.
Maine is the only New England state with no laws banning or limiting the practice of shackling pregnant women whatsoever. Maine's female prisoner population has increased six-fold over the last ten years, also likely increasing the number of pregnant women who are incarcerated.
No pregnant woman, incarcerated or not, should be shackled. No woman, whether incarcerated or not, should have to fear for the health and safety of her pregnancy. All women, incarcerated or not, have the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. For this reason, the ACLU of Maine will be in Augusta fighting to ensure the passage of LD 1013.