Legislation Would Ban Use of Restraints on Female Prisoners While in Labor
A bill (AB 478) by Assembly member Sally Lieber (D-San Jose) would ban the use of handcuffs and shackles on female prisoners while in labor, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The bill currently is under consideration in the Senate after being approved in the Assembly.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's policy is to keep inmates who go into labor in handcuffs until they reach the hospital, at which time they must be shackled to the bed until they are considered by a doctor to be in "active labor," according to the Mercury News. After the inmates give birth, they must have one leg shackled to a bed.
Critics of the practice say it harms prisoners because early labor is an important period when walking and changing positions helps the progress and comfort of delivery. Some inmate advocacy groups also have voiced opposition to the practice and are studying cases of mothers at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which houses more than 100 pregnant prisoners on any given day.
However, DCR officials defended the practice, the Mercury News reports. Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for DCR, said, "Basically, we don't want them to escape - that's the bottom line. It's part of our mission of public safety. When any inmate is away from an institution, they need to be appropriately supervised and restrained to prevent escape."
Between 1998 and 2004, California prisoners gave birth to 1,300 infants, most of whom were conceived before their mothers' sentencing (de Sa, San Jose Mercury News, 7/29).