Giving Birth in Chains

If you have ever had a child, think back to the day she or he was born.  Recall lying in the hospital bed and pushing to bring life into this world, or holding your newborn child for the first time.  Now imagine doing all of this with shackles restraining you, chaining you to your hospital bed.  This has been the experience of countless women in our country who have had children while incarcerated.

Shackling in these situations is not only cruel and inhumane, it also poses serious health risks to both the mother and her child.

The shackling of pregnant women in transportation to the hospital, during labor, during deliver, and after delivery are all common practices among prisons in 48 states, including Pennsylvania.  Illinois and California are currently the only states with legislation that prohibits this inhumane practice, and the state of New York currently has a bill pending that would do so.

This past October, the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a policy that banned shackling during labor, during delivery, and in post-delivery recuperation.  This policy applies to federal prisons only and can be found here (PDF), addressing shackling mothers on page 11.

Organizations such as Amnesty International and the Rebecca Project have taken an active stance against shackling.

In Philadelphia, the Working Group to Enhance Services for Incarcerated Women has been actively addressing this issue and working to develop Pennsylvania legislation that will ban the cruel practice.  The Working Group is a Philadelphia-based project of the Pennsylvania Prison Society with approximately 30 coalition members.

For information on how you can get involved with the Working Group to Enhance Services for Incarcerated Women, email Ann Schwartzman at aschwartzman [at] prisonsociety [dot] org.

Here is a 2006 New York Times article about shackling. An overview of shackling legislation can be found here (PDF).


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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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