This week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent Pennsylvania's Attorney General a letter asking her to enforce the 2010 Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act. The 2010 bill (SB 1074) bans the use of handcuffs, leg shackles, and other physical restraints on pregnant incarcerated individuals who are in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies. Under the law, shackling is prohibited during prenatal visits, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period, including during transport to and from the hospital. Individuals who pose a serious flight or security risk are excluded from the ban. Since the implementation of the law, jails have been required to file monthly reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections detailing their use of restraints on pregnant inmates.
Shortly after the law was passed, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project initiated an investigation to determine whether or not facilities were in compliance with the law. Between 2011-2013, Duvall Project staff members had meetings with clinicians and staff at 26 different hospitals. They found that, despite low numbers being reported to the DOC, pregnant prisoners were routinely shackled in their second or third trimester and during transport. This includes a pregnant jail prisoner who, while seven months pregnant, tripped over her restraints and fell face down while visiting Magee Women’s Hospital.
The Duvall Project also conducted a survey of practitioners and providers in more than 20 prenatal care clinics in Pennsylvania to determine the level of familiarity clinicians had with SB 1074. Duvall Project staff found that the vast majority of clinicians were unfamiliar with the law. Most did not know they could ask correctional officers to remove restraints from pregnant patients.
The ACLU recently released a report detailing state standards for reproductive rights for incarcerated individuals. You can read that report here. In terms of shackling laws, only 17 states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners during labor and delivery as a matter of statute; eight states restrict the use of restraints as a matter of policy. The states that restrict shackling by statute are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. The states that restrict shackling by policy are: Delaware, District of Columbia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota.
Maine currently has no laws banning the use of shackles or restraints on pregnant prisoners.