Now is the Time to Stop Shackling Pregnant Women in California

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Human Rights

Now is the Time to Stop Shackling Pregnant Women in California

Rachel Roth

The California Legislature unanimously passed a bill to protect pregnant women from shackling; last-minute lobbying puts this important bill at risk.

Cross-posted from MomsRising:

One month after the California Legislature sent a bill to the Governor to protect incarcerated women from being shackled during pregnancy, the State Sheriffs’ Association has decided to oppose the bill, according to a news update from Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ).

Although the legislative process provided plenty of opportunity to make their voices heard – through participating in hearings and discussions, as well as using the press to broadcast their opinions – instead the sheriffs have waited until the last minute to lobby the Governor to veto the bill.

ACRJ and others are renewing their call for people to tell the Governor to turn this important bill into law. Activists delivered 1,200 signatures to Sacramento two weeks ago. You can add your name to a petition here or call Governor Brown’s office at: (916) 445-2841.

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Want more background? Read this article on the bill by Tamaya Garcia:

For the second session in a row, the California Legislature has unanimously passed a bill to prohibit the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women. However, uncertainty remains over whether the governor will sign the bill.

Last time, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, claiming that its mandates went outside the scope of the designated government agency’s responsibility.

Now, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is the one who will decide the bill’s fate, but he will be getting input from the same public safety advisor held over from the previous administration.

Why does this bill matter? Consider the experience of Pauline, who spent part of her pregnancy in the Contra Costa County jail, as described by Karen Shain, Policy Director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC):

She went to court at least 10 times, and every time she left the jail, she was shackled – sometimes around her belly, sometimes attached to another prisoner. Near the end of her pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia and had to be hospitalized shackled to her bed, having to ask permission from a guard every time she had to go to the bathroom.”

California does have a law on the books prohibiting shackling or handcuffing during transportation to a hospital and during labor, childbirth, and postpartum recovery. But this law has never been fully implemented, especially by county jails. According to a survey by LSPC, nearly two-thirds of counties still do not have policies that conform to the law.

The new bill (AB 568) would not only require the California Corrections Standards Authority to clarify rules for jails and prisons to follow, it would also provide broader protection from shackling to pregnant women than the current law. The bill mandates use of the least restrictive restraints possible throughout pregnancy and applies to transportation from the prison or jail to court dates as well as medical appointments. If signed, this bill would provide the greatest protection against shackling to pregnant women anywhere in the nation.

Organizations including LSPC, the ACLU, the Center for Young Women’s Development, and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice are mobilizing to encourage the governor to sign the bill.

California was one of the first states to recognize the harm of shackling pregnant women, enacting its current law in 2004. After a period of time where no state regulated the practice, there have been enormous strides toward mandating humane treatment of pregnant women, especially during labor and childbirth. Today, 14 states have laws restricting the practice of shackling, mostly passed in the last two years.

As a result of lawsuits, judicial agreements also limit the use of shackles in other jurisdictions, such as New York City and the District of Columbia. The federal prison system has an internal policy to limit shackling. And federal courts from Washington State to Arkansas to Tennessee agree with women that shackling during labor, childbirth, and postpartum recovery violates their constitutional as well as their human rights.

The California bill charts a course for the next phase of state action against shackling. Will the Governor sign it into law?

You can let Governor Brown know what you think he should do here.