January 30, 2014 — Legislation in Iowa and Maryland aims to prevent jails and prisons from restraining pregnant women in their custody.
Iowa Bill Would Restrict Shackling, Require Birth Plans
An Iowa legislative panel on Tuesday approved a bill (SF 2019) that would restrict correctional institutions from restraining pregnant women, require them to develop birth plans for pregnant inmates and mandate that they report instances of restraint use, the AP/Washington Times reports.
However, the state Department of Corrections, which opposes the bill, said every institution should be able to set its own policies.
State Sen. Janet Petersen (D) argued that the measure would clarify how institutions should handle care for pregnant inmates and publicize the issue. Petersen said she is unsure if supporters have enough votes to pass the measure, "especially if we have law enforcement working against us," but added, "[T]hat doesn't mean that it's not worth bringing up."
The measure now moves to the full state Senate Judiciary Committee (Liepelt, AP/Washington Times, 1/28).
Md. Bill Would Unify Rules on Pregnant Inmates
A Maryland bill (HB 27) by state Delegate Mary Washington (D) would align restrictions on restraining pregnant inmates across all of the state's prisons and jails, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
The state corrections department's policy already prohibits the practice in most circumstances, but the policy is not law and does not apply to jails, which hold inmates while they are awaiting trial.
The bill would ban shackling during labor and delivery but allow facilities to restrain pregnant women in other circumstances if a manager decides it is necessary in a specific case. Guards would be required to remove restraints at the request of a physician or nurse.
At a hearing Tuesday, Jodi Protokowicz, an obstetrical nurse representing the Maryland Nurses Association, said restraints make it difficult for women to change positions in their beds and for nurses to transport them during emergencies. She added that women in labor or recovery present almost no risk of escaping because hospital delivery units have tight security and most patients receive epidurals, which numb them below the waist.
However, St. Mary's County Detention Center Warden Michael Merican testified that the bill is too broad and that jails need the option of restraining pregnant women in specific circumstances, adding that most jails do not have medical wards and need better provisions for handling such cases (Tabor, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/28).