Here in Centre County, PA I received a phone call from the mother of a pregnant women who was incarcerated in the county jail for shoplifting. I received the call on Friday January 8, 2010. Her daughter was expecting to go into labor over the weekend. The mother told me that the warden had told her that her daughter would be shackled during labor and delivery.
I told her I'd see what I could do. I contacted the county sheriff, the county commissioner who is head of the county's prison board, and his assistant. Working through the assistant, I was able to get the warden to agree not to shackle the woman should she go into labor over the weekend. During the process, I highlighted the following:
1. Shackling is a form of cruel and unusual punishment for pregnant women.
2. Shackling can cause serious medical complications to the fetus.
I noted that this is also a violation of international treaty, that it has been outlawed in six states, and as of Oct 2009 been prohibited in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Arkansas by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals as cruel and unusual punishment. In addition there is pending legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to outlaw restraints on "a prisoner or detainee known to be pregnant during any stage of labor, any pregnancy related medical distress, transport to a medical facility, delivery or postpartum."
As a result of the phone calls and emails, I got an agreement from the warden that they would not shackle the woman should she go into labor over the weekend. They also agreed to place this issue on the prison board's meeting agenda on Thursday, January 14 to review the policy of shackling everyone, pregnant or not.
The Prison Board Meeting
Subsequent to the agreement not to shackle, I received a copy of the current restraint policy. The only exception to any form of restraint in the current policy is to prohibit the use of leg irons during transport or labor of the pregnant woman. I let the sherrif, the county commissioner, and his assistant know that this was still unaceptable and that I would still be doing a presentation at the board meeting.
So Thursday morning, I made my presentation. Present at the meeting were the Warden, all three county Commissioners, one of our four Court of Common Pleas judges, the new District Attorney, the county Sheriff, and several other people that I didn't recognize. In addition, Barbara Price from the Centre County chapter of the Prison Society and Colina Jordan-Seeley from Ni-Ta-Nee NOW also attended. (Barbara didn't know about this policy in Centre County before the meeting, but was quite supportive). Thanks Barbara and Colina!
First off, we were told that the woman had her child on Sunday or Monday. She was not restrained at all according to the Warden. After the birth, she was paroled and is now out with her child. Yea!
I made a 20-minute presentation. The warden was a bit defensive, saying that the mother had never brought this issue up to him. He said she only raised the issue of custody of the child after birth. But he did agree that the policy did need to be looked at.
At the end of my comments, I requested that they also include in the policy training officers on how to place a seat belt across a pregnant woman when transporting so as not to place undue pressure on the fetus. They agreed to consider adding this to the policy as well.
They all thanked me for bringing this issue up before them and said that as a result they would be adding a new section to their policy specifically focusing on pregnant women. Sheriff Denny Nau also said at the end of my presentation that he wants to see words similar to SB 1074 in the final policy. They agreed that once the new policy is drafted that they will send me a copy and notify me of the meeting date when it will be on the agenda.
Following my presentation, they brought up a policy revision they are discussing on tasering inmates and detainees. I was allowed to ask a question. I asked if there was a prohibition against tasering any pregnant woman. The warden immediately said that yes, that is in the policy. The corrections officers, however, are still required to carry tasers when transporting and at the medical facility whether or not the prisoner is pregnant. He said the reason for carrying is that they have had experiences with the boyfriend or other family members of the pregnant woman attacking others during the prenatal examinations. They don't use the TASER on the woman, but have used it to subdue others.
I got a copy of the policy. Here's what it says about pregnant women:
The TASER will not be used:
...to awaken unconscious or intoxicated individual; or when the subject is visibly pregnant, unless deadly force is the only other option.
This too needs to be tweaked since it only prohibits tasering if the woman is "visibly pregnant."
But all in all, this looks like a victory for reproductive and human rights. :-) Will let you know what happens once they actually create the new policy.