State Birth-Shackling Laws Cause Controversy

In 33 states across the country, the law mandates that pregnant inmates can be physically shackled to hospital beds while giving birth. Women who are detained for immigration violations are among those targeted by the highly controversial policy that is not endorsed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Federal prisons and ICE do not shackle pregnant inmates during the birthing process,” Malika Saar, an advocate with the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, told ABC News. “However, if a woman goes into labor while placed on so-called immigration “detainer,” a period in which ICE asks local authorities to hold inmates for possible deportation, she will be subject to shackling policies of the local authorities, which vary state-by-state.”

California recently amended its law, and new policy mandates that jails can no longer use leg irons, waist chains or handcuffs behind the body during any part of the birthing process. Illinois, Texas, Vermont and Colorado also have anti-shackling laws, according to the source.

Women’s rights advocates are working on abolishing the law in all states after a court ruled in favor of the women in a recent class-action lawsuit. Eighty female inmates sued the state of Illinois for restraining them while they were giving birth and recovering and were awarded a $4.1 million settlement from Cook County Jail, the source reported.

“Pregnant women are the most vulnerable and least threatening in the prison system and should rarely, if ever, be strained,” Alicia Walters, reproductive justice advocate with the ACLU of Northern California, wrote in a blog post.

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