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Del. Hope Proposes Bill to Unshackle Pregnant Inmates

Del. Patrick Hope (D), who represents part of Arlington County, has proposed a bill that would prohibit the shackling of a pregnant inmate during labor and postpartum recovery.

Hope says that his bill has the support of medical organizations, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, among others. Ten other states have passed similar legislation.

“Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane. Excessively restraining prisoners and detainees during pregnancy increases their chances of accidentally tripping or falling, and harming their pregnancies,” Hope said in a statement. “During labor and postpartum recovery, shackling can interfere with appropriate medical care and can be detrimental to the health of the woman and her newborn child.”

The bill, HB 1488, is set to be considered by a House of Delegates subcommittee today.

See the press release from Hope’s office after the jump.

RICHMOND – Tomorrow, a House subcommittee will consider legislation, HB 1488, seeking to prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor, transport to a medical facility, delivery, or postpartum recovery in the commonwealth’s correctional facilities. Patroned by Delegate Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), this legislation is praised by health care professionals and a chorus of advocates in favor of protecting the health of a female inmate and her pregnancy.

“Shackling pregnant women is dangerous and inhumane. Excessively restraining prisoners and detainees during pregnancy increases their chances of accidentally tripping or falling, and harming their pregnancies,” said Del. Patrick Hope.” Hope continued, “During labor and postpartum recovery, shackling can interfere with appropriate medical care and can be detrimental to the health of the woman and her newborn child.”

Ten other states have signed similar legislation into law. If HB 1488 passes both the House and Senate, Virginia would also join California, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia among the states that have banned the practice via state law. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the federal Marshalls Service also have policies that block the shackling of inmates during childbirth. Public health professionals, including the American Public Health Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose the practice and support bills to ban it.

HB 1488 is modeled after a Resolution (see below) unanimously adopted by the American Medical Association in their June 2010 Annual Meeting.

“The vast majority of female prisoners are non-violent offenders who pose a low security risk—particularly during labor and postpartum recovery,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union of VA (ACLU-VA).

“In the states that have outlawed shackling of pregnant inmates, there have been no documented instances of a woman in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, security guards or medical staff.”

While advocates are not able to quantify how many times inmates in childbirth have been shackled in Virginia’s prisons, there is enough national anecdotal evidence to indicate the need for the legislation, Greenier said. Many states, including Virginia’s Department of Corrections, don’t make available statistics on when or how pregnant inmates are restrained.

“We hope the Virginia legislature will take notice of the harm to the mother and baby’s health when the mother is restrained in this way,” Carla Peterson, Director of VA Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (VA-CURE) said. “It is simply an inhumane and unsafe practice.”

This bill is supported by the American Medical Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Virginia Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Legal Aid Justice Center, ACLU of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice-Virginia, Planned Parenthood-Virginia, VA CURE, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Patrick A. Hope is a Member of the Virginia General Assembly as the Delegate from the 47th District representing part of Arlington County. He serves on the House Courts of Justice Committee and House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee.

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