New York’s 2009 Anti-Shackling law covers all state correctional facilities and local jails and explicitly bans the use of restraints on women throughout labour, delivery, and recovery.
But a recent report released by the Correctional Association of New York claims New York has failed to follow through on its promise of adequate healthcare for pregnant inmates.
The report interviewed 27 women who had given birth between 2009 and 2013 at New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). It found that 85% of those women were shackled at least once in violation of the law.
“My ankles were shackled during the whole trip to the hospital when I was in labour,” one inmate told researchers. “I was shackled until I got to the delivery room, but even then they kept one of my ankles shackled to the bed.”
As of 2014, 21 states had passed anti-shackling laws — and also failed to enforce them properly, the report stated.
“These laws were passed and everybody patted themselves on the back for doing what was right and human and then went on about their business,” Danyell Williams, a former doula at a Philadelphia correctional facility, told The New York Times in an article published last summer. “But there’s no policing entity that’s really going to hold these institutions responsible.”
Shackles aim to restrict an inmates’ movement by binding their hands and feet using handcuffs and ankle restraints. This practice can be extremely painful since women’s wrists and ankles swell during pregnancy. It also poses a health risk to pregnant inmates, whom medical professionals widely agree require mobility during labour to keep the mother and baby safe.
“Shackling women in labour runs counter to our values,” delegates from the American Medical Association said in a 2010 statement.
Among other risks, shackling interferes with normal labour and delivery. “Women need to be able to move or be moved in preparation for emergencies of labour and delivery, including shoulder dystocia, hemorrhage, or abnormalities of the fetal heart rate requiring intervention, including urgent cesarean delivery,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The limited mobility caused by shackling can also increase the risk of blood clots — a leading cause of maternal death in the US, according to the ACOG.
The shackles continue to cause inmates serious pain and discomfort even after they give birth. When one New York inmate had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section, she was promptly re-shackled on the way back to prison.
“With the weight on the stomach [from the handcuffs], it felt like they were ripping open my C-section,” she told the New York Times in 2012.
Shackling women during birth has emotional as well as physical consequences. The ACOG calls it “demeaning” and warns that it may interfere with the inmate’s ability to form a bond with her child. Women surveyed by the Correctional Association who had been shackled during childbirth described the practice as “horrible” and “degrading.”
One woman told researchers that she had to breastfeed her baby while shackled. “I was devastated to go visit him [in the nursery or neonatal ICU]” she said. “I had to sit in a wheelchair for hours at a time shackled in pain.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.