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Bill to Unshackle Pregnant Inmates Fails, But Policy Change Possible

(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.

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