Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1074, introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware/Montgomery), proposes banning the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor. SB1074, previously referred to as the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, unanimously passed the Pennsylvania Senate on March 17, 2010. Subsequently it passed the House Judiciary Committee without opposition and is now awaiting action by the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill prohibits the shackling of pregnant inmates in transit to a medical facility, during labor, and for a reasonable amount of time after labor. The bill allows for exceptions in cases where it is determined that the woman “represented a substantial risk of imminent flight” or “other extraordinary medical or security circumstances.” If the woman meets one of these criteria for remaining in shackles during her labor, this would have to be detailed in writing and included in the County Extraordinary Occurrence Monthly Report.
The shackling ban is considered a no-brainer by many legislators for multiple reasons. One, which we have mentioned before, is the barbarity of the practice. Shackling a woman during labor increases the possibility of complications for both the woman and fetus, as is evidenced by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’s opposition to shackling during labor. These complications include an increased risk of clotting due to the inability for the woman to properly position herself during labor, decreased blood flow to the fetus, interference with the mother’s ability to breastfeed her child after delivery, and delays that are presented from having to remove shackles before an emergency procedure.
Another reason why this bill is a no-brainer is that women who are in labor are obviously a low-flight risk. No inmates in labor have ever attempted escape. States such as California, Illinois and Vermont that have already banned the shackling of women in labor have not experienced any flight attempts or other increased security problems by women in labor. There is no evidence that incarcerated pregnant women will start trying to escape during labor after this bill is passed.
There are numerous stories across the state that speak to the need for this legislation. Tina Torres was incarcerated and charged after being found in a house that was being raided for drugs. Ms. Torres spent eight months in prison before the charges against her were dropped. In her seventh month in prison, she gave birth. She was shackled in transit to the hospital and throughout her seventeen hours and twenty minutes of labor until right before she was wheeled into an operating room to receive a C-section. The swelling of her ankles caused the shackles to cut into her skin, leaving permanent scars.
“Sometimes when I’m putting my lotion on, I look at the scars on my legs, and I’m reminded of it every time,” says the 29-year old Hunting Park resident, recounting her incarceration at the Riverside Correctional Facility for women. “I could have never prepared myself for that. Even animals in captivity don’t have to give birth in chains.”
After surgery, shackles were reapplied to Tina’s ankles.
Because the committee has yet to move the bill to a full House vote, Pennsylvania cannot give female inmates like Ms. Torres the guarantee of a safer birth without shackling that women in other states enjoy. California, New York, Texas, and Vermont currently have legislation that prohibits the shackling of women during labor. Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming have prison policies banning the practice. These states, unlike Pennsylvania, are in keeping with the Federal Bureau of Prisons ban on shackling of women in labor in federal prisons.
Until SB1074 is passed in the House and signed by the governor, incarcerated pregnant women in Pennsylvania are at the mercy of local and state prison officials, and they may still end up shackled during labor. Judging by the unanimous support for the bill in the Senate, as well as the support it received in the House Judiciary Committee, it’s time for the House Appropriations Committee to move this legislation so that Pennsylvania can end this barbaric practice, and allow incarcerated women to give birth chain free.