Recently, the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) decided to strengthen and expand existing policies banning shackling of pregnant inmates during labor, delivery and post- recovery. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a membership organization of more than 300 religious organizations committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, is pleased that Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke has taken another important step to protect mothers and children by building off of existing practice and agreeing to strengthen and expand department-wide the DOC’s policy limiting the practice of shackling women prisoners during childbirth.
However, the cruel and inhumane practice of shackling in Virginia is a problem beyond the jurisdiction of the DOC. Restraining inmates who are in labor still occurs in some local and regional correctional facilities. Virginia should join the 13 states that have enacted legislation to prohibit this barbaric practice.
As people of faith, the members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture recognize that restricting women prisoners during childbirth strips away the dignity from the sacred moment of a new life entering the world, desecrates the sanctity of both birth and life, and endangers the health and well-being of both mother and child. Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington, Va., first called for an end to the egregious practice of shackling when he introduced legislation earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s 2011 legislative session. After passing unanimously in subcommittee, that bill was unfortunately defeated by the full House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture applauds Delegate Hope and DOC Director Clarke’s cooperative work to expand and strengthen existing protections in state prisons, however, we agree with Hope that our work is not done yet. We are proud that Hope plans to reintroduce legislation, modeled after the DOC’s policies, to ensure that such safeguards also apply to inmates housed in Virginia’s local and regional jails.
Virginia cannot declare a victory in putting an end to the appalling practice of shackling of women inmates during childbirth until the Virginia General Assembly passes a law prohibiting it in all jails and prisons, at all levels, across the state.