BOSTON (AP) — A bill that would outlaw the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth is making its way through the Massachusetts Statehouse.
The measure aims to create uniform laws for the jails and the state prison system that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth and post-delivery recuperation. It would also set standards for the treatment and medical care of pregnant inmates, including nutrition, prenatal care and services for high-risk pregnancies.
State Department of Correction policy already prohibits prisoners in labor from being restrained, though restraints can be used when transporting pregnant inmates.
The Department of Correction controls state prisons. Each county jail has its own policies regarding pregnant inmates.
Ashland Democratic state Sen. Karen Spilka, who sponsored the bill, said, “Shackling pregnant women interferes with a physician’s ability to treat mothers and their newborns, and it is an inhumane, unacceptable practice.”
A spokesman for the Department of Correction pointed to policies stating “female inmates who are in labor as determined by the outside hospital’s attending physician shall not be restrained.”
The policy also states that inmates “shall not be restrained while in recovery until the attending physician makes the determination that the restraints may be re-applied.”
Under the policy, full restraints on the wrists, waist and ankles can be applied to pregnant women in their first trimester when they are being transported. Waist chains aren’t permitted during the second and third trimesters.
Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Safety has released the bill, meaning it’s cleared its first legislative hurdle. It still needs to pass the state House and Senate before heading to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
Supporters, including civil liberties and abortion-rights groups, say 18 states already ban the shackling of pregnant, incarcerated women.
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