Shackling Pregnant Women Spurs Prison-Reform Push

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thirty six states received failing grades for using various restraints on the belly and arms of incarcerated woman during labor and delivery in a recent report. On Monday, activists gathered online to discuss follow-through.

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Women in prison are guaranteed prenatal care under the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In 2009, a federal appeals court ruled in the case of Lumsey that constitutional protections against shackling pregnant women during labor had been clearly established by decisions of the Supreme Court and the lower courts.

Co-authors of the report also describe a systemic failure of states to ensure that pregnant inmates receive basic prenatal care.

Forty-three states, including the District of Columbia, do not require medical examinations as a component of prenatal care.

Forty-eight states, including the District of Columbia, do not offer pregnant women screening for HIV-AIDS.

Many states with written health care policies for men have no such policies for incarcerated women.

Thirty-eight states, including the District of Columbia, received failing grades for inadequate policies or no policies at all for women.

Federal facilities are not graded but the report concludes--based on available evidence--that conditions for families with children in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security) detention are poor.


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Susan Elan covered politics at daily newspapers in the New York metropolitan area for over a decade. She is now enrolled in a Master of Public Health program at New York Medical College.

For more information:

The National Women's Law Center:

The Rebecca Project for Human Rights:

American Civil Liberties Union, State Standards for Pregnancy-Related Health Care in Prison (2008), available at:

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