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No one really wants to think about the realities of prison unless they have to go there or they know someone who has been incarcerated. For many women, time in jail has harsh implications that are different than those experienced by male inmates. Sexual assault by male prison workers and guards is a common threat for female prisoners. Another unique issue they face is the potential to end up giving birth while shackled or chained to a hospital bed.
As the ACLU notes in an article about a proposed bill, the treatment of female prisoners in the United States is based on practices put in place for male prisoners. It is common in many situations for officers to shackle or handcuffed male prisoners in need of medical care that have to go to the hospital to prevent an attempt to flee. As a result, women in labor while incarcerated often end up shackled or handcuffed while going through the incredibly physically demanding process of giving birth.
This is an incredibly inhumane and cruel experience that no one, regardless of their crime, should ever have to experience. It’s also ridiculous to assume that a woman in the throes of labor could just walk out of a hospital and escape custody. Thankfully, lawmakers are finally standing up to do something about it.
A bill written and sponsored by three woman lawmakers,Representatives Karen Bass, Mia B. Love, and Katherine Clark, stands to change federal law regarding the treatment of pregnant inmates. H.R. 6805, also called the Pregnant Women In Custody Act, would end the use of shackles and restraints on pregnant women while they give birth.
The bill could also end the practice of placing pregnant women in solitary confinement while in prison. Theoretically, this practice is meant to protect unborn children from violence and other potential risks associated with life in general population. In reality, it places incredible amount of psychological stress on the pregnant mother, potentially leading to psychotic episodes and worsening the depression often associated with childbirth. It also puts women at risk of going into labor when there’s no one there to help them.
Pregnant women in prison may spend the vast majority of their time with nothing to do and no one to talk to. The strain and stress that experience while pregnant can impact the neurological development of their children. This kind of mistreatment can also lead to trauma that haunts the prisoner for the rest of their life. Solitary confinement is not the right place for a pregnant woman unless she poses a severe risk of harm to herself or her unborn child. Even in that situation, transfer to a mental health facility is likely a better option than leaving her alone for the majority of the day in solitary confinement.
Women in prison deserve compassion and human decency. This is particularly true for pregnant women, as the stress and negative experiences they have may impact not only their health but also the health of their children. Ladybud wants to applaud both the ACLU and the lady lawmakers who are standing up for our incarcerated sisters. Hopefully, lawmakers will see the sense in the proposed bill and pass it quickly, thus protecting countless women from the trauma that comes from solitary confinement and being forced to give birth in shackles or completely alone.
For previous Ladybud articles about prison, click here.