“Shackled During Childbirth
Women are Born Free in the US but Everywhere give Birth in Chains
America is almost unique in the civilised world for forcing pregnant prisoners to undergo childbirth cuffed and shackled
Chaining up prisoners who are dangerous felons is one thing, but as the vast majority of incarcerated women are nonviolent offenders who, for the most part, are only guilty of crimes of poverty and addiction, a one-size-fits-all shackling policy is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. Especially since the chances of a woman in the middle of labor going on the lam are almost nonexistent. That should be self-evident, but it seems that no allowance is made for the physical vulnerabilities of women, even when they are pregnant.
And so you have a situation where someone like Cora Fletcher finds herself literally and figuratively bound by practices that would be harsh if applied to a multiple murderer, never mind a teenage girl who stole something from a store. As if the rigors of childbirth were not punishing enough, the state chooses to make the experience as torturous for a woman as possible.
There is reason, however, to hope that the days of this barbaric practice are numbered. The recent $4.1m settlement was welcomed by human rights advocates and many lawmakers as a strong message to jails and prisons that shackling women before, during and after childbirth is unlawful and unconstitutional. Cook County has paid a hefty price for its decision to violate their own state’s laws. Other local governments can expect to do the same.
Advocacy groups are gearing up to get legislation passed in the 34 states that still allow the practice and are pushing for a federal standard to ensure that the laws are upheld in all 50. It’s a shame that it will, apparently, require endless lawsuits and relentless campaigning to put an end to a practice that any reasonable person should find abhorrent. But if that’s what it takes, so be it.”