Two years after a federal law banning shackling women during childbirth was passed, prisoners in America are still giving birth in chains

In 2010, the UN adopted a rule regarding incarcerated pregnant women: "instruments of restraint shall never be used … during labour, during birth and immediately after birth." In 2018, the Federal First Step Act banned shackling pregnant women, women giving birth, and women caring for newborns; but the law does not extend to local and state jails, where 85% of the incarcerated women in America are locked up.

As a result, the practice of shackling women before, during and after childbirth is rampant across America, and in the majority (61%) of these circumstances, the women are shackled not because of any specific danger, but because the facility has a policy that insists that they be in chains. The US government does not require state or local lockups to maintain statistics on pregnancy among inmates, and a bill to require this data collection has languished in Congress since September 2018.

Incarcerated women are disproportionately likely to have experienced violent trauma, especially sexual trauma, and the women who have given birth in restraints describe how the experience triggered their post-traumatic stress from these incidents.

Lori Yearwood's Guardian story on the practice is heartbreaking, tracing how the trauma of giving birth in chains can redound for decades after.

Harriette Davis, 64, once an inmate at the California Institute for Women in Corona, is now an anti-shackling advocate and remembers well the trauma of being handcuffed to a hospital bed before giving birth to her daughter 36 years ago. The attending doctor told the guard to remove the shackles, Davis says, so that Davis could move freely, helping her baby travel more easily down the birth canal.

"She's not going anywhere," Davis says the doctor assured the guard.

In the final hour before her daughter was born, the guard finally removed the restraints.

Davis bursts into tears as she speaks by telephone from her home in Berkeley, California. "It's inhuman and it's not necessary and it's emotionally and mentally unhealthy," she says.

Pregnant and shackled: why inmates are still giving birth cuffed and bound
[Lori Teresa Yearwood/The Guardian]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: mbreton, CC BY-SA, modified)