Pennsylvania Bill to Limit Shackling of Pregnant Women Advances


On January 26, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature unanimously approved a bill to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women during labor, childbirth, or postpartum recovery, including during transportation to the hospital or during any pregnancy-related medical distress. The bill prohibits the use of restraints unless corrections staff make an individualized determination that a pregnant woman poses a substantial flight risk or security risk.

 

Explaining the need for the state to enact a law on the shackling of pregnant women during labor, State Senator Daylin Leach said, “This is not something that happens every day, but this is something that could happen on any given day.”

 

Current Pennsylvania law does not expressly prohibit the shackling of women in labor or during childbirth, allowing for arbitrary and inconsistent treatment of women across state and county prison institutions. In 2008, for example, a woman was subjected to shackling throughout labor and immediately after her baby was born. Only during emergency cesarean surgery were the restraints removed. She still has scars on her ankles from the restrictive leg irons.

 

As the president of the Pennsylvania County Corrections Association said, “What the law would do is compel counties to put a written policy in place.”

 

Written policies are essential to establish and communicate expectations – to corrections officials, corrections staff, and women in prison. State legislation ensures that these written policies will be uniform, instead of leaving it to each state or county agency or individual prison to determine its own policy. Statutes, unlike internal policies, cannot be changed unilaterally or without notice to the public, ensuring a greater level of transparency. Statutes can also contain remedies to address violations of their terms.

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