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Lack of Awareness, Uneven Implementation Hamper Laws Aiming To Prevent Shackling of Imprisoned Pregnant Women, Column Argues

Lack of Awareness, Uneven Implementation Hamper Laws Aiming To Prevent Shackling of Imprisoned Pregnant Women, Column Argues

July 28, 2014 — Shackling pregnant inmates during and after labor can be a "threat to the health of both mother and child," yet it remains "a multistate problem," Audrey Quinn, a multimedia journalist who covers health, science and the economy, writes in a New York Times opinion piece. The practice "is common," Quinn argues, citing a Correctional Association of New York study to be released in September that found 23 of 27 surveyed women reported being shackled before, during or after their delivery.

Twenty-one states have laws preventing shackling, but they vary, and Quinn writes there is "evidence of negligence in the implementation of these laws across the country" and that "isn't the only problem."

"The language of some of the laws gives wide latitude to corrections officers to use restraints if they identify security risks," which "creates opportunities for the continuation of shackling," Quinn writes.

Quinn cites several examples of pregnant inmates who had been wrongfully shackled during labor in states that have anti-shackling laws like California, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. According to Quinn, "in many correctional systems, doctors, guards and prison officials simply are not told about anti-shackling laws, or are not trained to comply."

Most prominent, she writes, is a case involving Nevada inmate Valerie Nabors. Nevada prohibits restraints during labor and delivery. When Nabors went into labor, she was taken to a hospital via ambulance with her hands cuffed and ankles shackled together. The ambulance supervisor had protested the shackling, noting that medical personnel would not be able to help Nabors if there were complications during transport, and a nurse at the hospital also questioned the use of restraints.

Nabors' restraints were removed only after a delivery room nurse insisted, but within 10 minutes of having an emergency caesarean section, her ankles were shackled and she was restrained to the hospital bed. Nabors "suffered several pulled muscles" and "X-rays revealed a separation of her pubic bones," which her physician said "were a direct result of the restraints."

Nabors, who was awarded $130,000 in a settlement after suing the state, is a rare case as "[v]ictims of illegal shackling rarely litigate, often because of feelings of shame or fear of repercussions," Quinn cautions (Quinn, New York Times, 7/26).