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Bill to Unshackle Pregnant Inmates Fails, But Policy Change Possible

by ARLnow.com — February 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm 2,014 18 Comments

(Updated at 8:00 a.m. on 2/9/11) A bill that would have prohibited the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and postpartum recovery has failed in a Virginia House of Delegates committee.

The legislation, proposed by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D), had the support of medical, civil rights and religious groups. It would have prevented the restraint of pregnant prisoners during labor and recovery, except in cases where jail administrators felt the prisoner posed a flight risk or a danger to herself or others.

There may be a silver lining for bill supporters, however.

According to Hope, the chairwoman of the Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee, Del. Beverly Sherwood (R), will be writing a letter to the Virginia Department of Corrections requesting they look into whether the department should change the policy on restraining pregnant inmates. Such a change could accomplish what Hope wanted to achieve without the need for legislation.

“If you ultimately get the [Department of Corrections] to act, it’s a win to me, so I’m very pleased,” Hope said. “I don’t judge my success by the number of bills I get passed into law.”

Update at 4:55 p.m. — The Virginia Department of Corrections provided the following information on the use of restraints on pregnant inmates:

Pregnant Inmates

If an inmate is pregnant?

Most pregnant inmates are incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW). FCCW, opened in 1998, is the state’s newest adult female prison facility with a state-of-the art medical unit. The inmate is screened by medical upon intake. Medical forwards a pre-natal plan to the hospital (UVA) shortly after the inmate’s arrival and a FCCW Counselor is advised of the inmate’s pregnancy. The Counselor interviews the inmate for details regarding whom she wishes to have custody of her baby, and forwards that information to the hospital. The hospital Social Worker contacts the custodian-to-be and makes sure he/she knows about everything he/she needs to bring with him/her when he/she comes to pick up the infant from the hospital. The Counselor also gets the names of visitors the inmate would like at the hospital and forwards it to the Warden’s office for approval. The approval is then faxed to the hospital.

What services are available to help her arrange care for her children while she is incarcerated?

Usually, a family member is already lined up to take this responsibility; however, if the inmate does not have a plan, the Counselor contacts the Social Worker at the hospital. Additionally, we will work with attorneys who work with the hospital on private adoption. The Counselor also works with various adoption agencies in the area. The Counselor also encourages the inmate to contact family and friends and get information about agencies she might use. When the inmate has decided what she wants to do, the Counselor contacts the person/agency the inmate has selected and sets up the necessary meetings.

Are social workers available to advise her and discuss her options? If not, what personnel are available to provide options and discuss same with the inmate?

There are several avenues. Once an agency is contacted, a representative usually comes to the prison to see the inmate. The local Social Services agency will arrange temporary custody, but they usually want a firm plan within 90 days. The majority of babies go to family members.

Restraints

All offenders leaving the institution will have full restraints including, handcuffs, waist chains, black box and leg irons except for pregnant offenders or those deemed medically challenged with Warden’s approval.

Handcuffs applied in the front of the pregnant offenders – are the only authorized restraints approved for use when a pregnant offender is transported outside the secure perimeter. Restraints will not be utilized if the Health Services Administrator determines that even handcuffs might jeopardize the health and well being of the pregnant woman and/or the fetus.

Note: If the Administrative Duty Officer deems that the use of handcuffs or no restraints will not adequately address an offender’s escape potential, then additional security personnel will be assigned for transport rather than the utilization of restraints.

  • SouthArlJD

    It’s excruciating to sit in a courtroom and watch shackled inmates, most of them nonviolent offenders, shuffling their way to into the room. To see an obviously pregnant woman shackled this way brings on a sense of shame that our notions of courtroom safety have become so paranoid that we cannot even allow a pregnant woman the dignity of waddling to her seat without feeling she might trip on leg shackles. For two decades I sat in courtrooms into which inmates came unshackled except for those with a history of violence or aggression. Somehow we all survived the experience. Then one day everyone was in shackles and I never did hear what changed that we needed to impose this humiliation on people who are already feeling pretty low in their ill-fitting jump suits.

    • Bob&Edith

      I agree that non-violent offenders should likely be handled in a manner that provides a little more freedom. What about a pregnant inmate who has committed a violent murder? Uh…not so sure. I do know this. There will be a bunch of people asking why an inmate wasn’t shackled if he/she darts into a deputy, steals a gun, and shoots someone in an escape attempt.

      • SouthArlJD

        What gun? The only person armed in an Arlington courtroom is the bailiff – and Judge Kendrick if he’s sitting on the bench. The bailiff never, ever gets near the prisoner. If the prisoner has any history at all of threats or violence then there are always two deputies standing near the prisoner. With truly violent individuals they always use shackles and usually have a deputy at the back of the courtroom just in case. When prisoners come out into the courtroom they’re always required to sit in clunky, heavy wooden chairs, pulled up to the table, and their hands must be on the table. Two sets of double doors lead to the courtroom, both of which the prisoner must navigate before encountering yet a third set of doors on his way to the stairs or elevators (unless it’s in the GD or JDR courts). It is the bailiff’s job to get the judge off the bench and to safety through a door which can only e opened with the bailiff’s card key, not to accost the inmate unless he’s charging the bench. The idea is to make it impossible for the inmate to get his hands on a gun.

        The deputies have a Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (aka SERT, aka the Breath Mints) which drills frequently to handle courtroom disturbances. These people can respond to any disturbance blazingly fast. I’ve seen it happen.

        I have to laugh at all the concern with shackling people six ways from Sunday to make their time in the courtroom safe for everybody. Attorneys, on the other hand, are ushered into the back where the lockup is, and we’re forced to talk to our clients outside the cell with two big steel doors between us and the nearest deputy. Attorneys HAVE been assaulted by angry clients in this area, but no one’s talking about shackling the clients, leastwise the attorneys. It’s the cost of doing business that sometimes someone wigs out. Frankly, all this courtroom shackling of every single person who’s locked up seems unnecessarily wimpy and craven to me.

    • BoredHouseWife

      I can tell you what changed, War on terror/war on drugs/war on poverty.

  • KalashniKEV

    Common sense prevails.

    • mehoo

      “the chairwoman of the public safety appropriations subcommittee, Del. Beverly Sherwood (R), will be writing a letter to the Virginia Department of Corrections asking about a possible policy change that could allow pregnant inmates to be unshackled on a case-by-case basis. Such a change could accomplish what Hope wanted to achieve without the need for legislation.”

      Yep.

      • KalashniKEV

        Not everything needs a law, and there’s really no cause for “outrage.”

        Once it’s over it’s “back in the cage” for all of them anyway…

        • mehoo

          Yes, Kev, not everything needs a law. There will be no law in this case.

        • MikeZ

          I’m usually a bit of an optimist and would agree that “not everything needs a law”. The justification for that is people have common sense and should use it. However in this case it appears common sense utterly failed so I think a law may actually be required.

      • Lou

        From what I’ve heard, the current policy already is for a case-by-case decision by the people on site. Can anyone produce a policy reference that says something different?

        • KalashniKEV

          Previous ARLnow reporting indicated it was case by case, Hope wanted to legislate a ban into effect. That effort fell flat on it’s face and now he’s spinning his failure.

        • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

          It’s my understanding that prison administrators are authorized to not use restraints if they believe restraints endanger the health of the woman or the fetus. I’ll be adding some information from the Department of Corrections shortly.

          • Lou

            Thanks for the follow up. It’s still hard to see what change Hope is asking for in the policy. It sounds like he is asking for exactly what is already in place.

          • local

            Thanks for digging that up.

            It looks like they do go case-by-case, but only based on medical risk, not security risk.

  • http://arlingtondirt.blogspot.com/ TGEoA

    What a waste of bandwidth. An even bigger waste of time.

    Hope should be whipped with a wire hanger for wasting taxpayer dollars on this moronic issue.

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  • Rob S

    America: Land of the Free, home of the Brave? Not so much anymore. Somehow, someone convinced us our public servant’s safety trumps citizen freedom and it’s been (predictably) downhill since.

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