A bill introduced this week in the Washington Legislature would restrict the authority of corrections employees to shackle pregnant women or youth during labor and childbirth.
If enacted, it would make Washington the seventh state to adopt such a law, along with Illinois, California, Vermont, New Mexico, Texas, and New York. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service, which has responsibility to transport people in federal prison, also have policies to restrict the use of shackles on pregnant women.
In October 2009, a federal court of appeal held such shackling to be unconstitutional, in a case brought by a woman who endured painful shackling that had long-term health consequences when she was in prison in Arkansas.
Although it is perhaps surprising that the Washington State Legislature is in session on Monday, January 18, which is observed as the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in much of the country, it is fitting that the Legislature will be holding a hearing on this important human rights issue.
A similar bill is also pending in Pennsylvania. The BBC recently interviewed two women who described in vivid detail how they were restrained and how it affected their labor and the delivery of their babies.
For further information about the Washington bill, see the pressrelease issued by Legal Voice, the ACLU of Washington, and the National Organization for Women. Legal Voice is representing a woman who was shackled during labor in Washington, contrary to the prison’s own policy on the use of restraints; her experience highlights the need for legislative action to provide greater clarity, oversight, and enforcement.
UPDATE: The legislative hearing took place with a range of speakers from corrections and local government and from the birthing rights community, including a woman named Kimberly Mays who described her experience being shackled during labor when she was in custody in Washington State.
On February 13, the House voted unanimously in favor of the bill, which must still pass the Senate.