In correctional facilities across the state, women literally have their babies while in chains. That is because pregnant women in Maryland’s jails and prisons are routinely handcuffed and shackled throughout their pregnancies — including during labor and delivery.
But there is no reason why this barbaric practice should continue. Shackling creates increased pain for the expecting mother and poses a number of risks to her pregnancy. Sadly, the many women who have given birth under these circumstances remain forever traumatized by the humiliation and terror they experience. And as a practical matter, shackling pregnant women is almost never justified. Correctional professionals have found that security can be maintained without shackling women.
As a state we can, and must, do better. Stand with us by telling policy makers to ban the practice of shackling pregnant women. Please complete the form to join the campaign against shackling pregnant women in prison:
Across the country, pregnant women suffer undue health risks when they are shackled before, during, and while recovering from labor. In Maryland, handcuffs, leg shackles and belly chains are used to restrain pregnant women during transport and medical appointments.Even during active labor, women and girls incarcerated in Maryland may endure the pain and restricted movement from having their wrists and ankles chained to the rails of the hospital bed. Maryland law does not even require correctional staff to consider input from medical staff when deciding whether to shackle a pregnant woman. Shackling pregnant women is permitted not only in Maryland’s state-run adult and juvenile facilities, but also in local detention centers where women are held awaiting trial, before they have been proven guilty of any crime.
Leading health and law enforcement authorities oppose the practice of shackling because it poses serious health risks to the pregnant woman and her baby. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association are all on record against the practice. In addition, the American Correctional Association, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Marshals Service have all adopted policies to limit shackling of pregnant women.
Moreover, federal courts have expressly condemned the practice of shackling pregnant women in labor as violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The need to ensure the safety and security of the public is important. But the evidence shows that as a practical matter, shackling pregnant women and girls in the name of safety and security is almost never justified. It is well documented that most incarcerated women have been convicted of nonviolent offenses. Supervision by correctional officers provides sufficient protection to the degree any risk exists. In fact, as ACOG notes, “no escape attempts have been reported among pregnant incarcerated women who were not shackled during childbirth.” The significant health risks of shackling are far greater than any risk to public safety.
In recognition of the harms of shackling pregnant women, a growing number of states prohibit or restrict shackling of pregnant prisoners. We urge state lawmakers to act now on behalf of women here in Maryland, by prohibiting the practice of shackling pregnant women and girls during transport, labor, delivery and recovery.