February 18, 2015 — New York state prisons have illegally shackled inmates during childbirth, despite a law against the practice, and failed to provide inmates with sufficient reproductive health care services and supplies, according to a report released Thursday by the Correctional Association of New York, the Huffington Post reports (Jeltsen, Huffington Post, 2/12).
The not-for-profit Correctional Association is required by the state to monitor prison conditions, according to NPR's "All Things Considered" (Haverty, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/12). The association developed the report in part from nearly 1,000 interviews with incarcerated women over five years.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that shackling women during labor can have detrimental health effects, including "increased likelihood of falls, trauma and limited access for treatment during medical emergencies." Meanwhile, the American Medical Association has called the practice "barbaric" (Huffington Post, 2/12).
Report Findings: Shackling, Lack of Support During Childbirth
The report found that some pregnant inmates over the five-year period continued to be shackled during labor, despite a six-year-old New York state law (S 1290 A) banning the practice ("All Things Considered," NPR, 2/12). The law bans restraints, which can include handcuffs and ankle shackles, among others measures, during labor, delivery or recovery.
The report found that among 27 women surveyed who had given birth after 2009, 23 said they had been shackled during some part of childbirth.
The report found that state prisons are using shackles less often than in the past between the time women arrive in hospitals and when they give birth. However, researchers found that women were still often shackled while being transported to the hospital, immediately after childbirth or on the return trip to prison. According to the report, three of the women who gave birth via cesarean section were made to wear waist chains when returning to prison, shortly after having surgery.
In addition, the report also found that the majority of women who were surveyed and gave birth while incarcerated said they had a negative childbirth experience. A main reason cited was that the women were not able to have a person from outside the prison system in the hospital to support them during childbirth.
Other Key Findings
The report also found that state prisons offered women limited contraceptive options. According to the report, only condoms were available to women who fulfilled certain requirements or met certain qualifications.
The authors wrote, "This is problematic for women who do not want to use condoms and for women who are concerned about asking their husbands to use a condom or who have husbands who will not agree to use a condom even if they are asked."
In addition, the researchers found that women had little access to contraceptives that were not condoms. Further, they found that women who used birth control for medical reasons other than preventing pregnancy faced significant barriers to being prescribed contraceptives in prison.
The report also found that state prisons did not provide more than 50% of the women surveyed with a sufficient number of sanitary pads per month. Many women said they had to apply for a medical permit in order to have a sufficient number of sanitary pads, which report author Tamar Kraft-Stolar called a "humiliating and unjustified process."
Researchers also found that a majority of respondents said they were not able to see a physician for gynecological care as needed. According to the report, New York's largest prison for women, Albion, had one physician who provided on-site gynecological care, who was on site for 16 hours a week.
The report also found that prison medical staff are not trained to work with women who have survived trauma, even though a majority of women who are incarcerated have experienced abuse or sexual violence.
The report also detailed other problems, such as that incarcerated women do not receive enough toilet paper. Overall, the authors wrote that incarcerated women often faced low-quality care and "assaults on their basic human dignity and reproductive rights."
The authors recommended that prison medical staff receive training on treating patients with a history of trauma and allow women to elect to be treated by female physicians when receiving gynecological care (Huffington Post, 2/12).
In addition, the report noted that the New York Department of Corrections was not doing enough to make sure the anti-shackling law was being enforced ("All Things Considered," NPR, 2/12).