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Senate Passes Bill to Prohibit Shackling of Pregnant Inmates, Promote Safe and Healthy Pregnancies

March 20, 2014

The Massachusetts Senate today passed a bill to prohibit shackling and promote safe pregnancies for female inmates in Massachusetts jails, Senator Karen Spilka announced. The bill, sponsored by Senator Spilka, prohibits the shackling of women during pregnancy, labor and delivery in Massachusetts state and county correctional facilities, unless they present a specific safety or flight risk.

Additionally, the bill outlines basic standards of prenatal and postpartum care to ensure safe, healthy outcomes for female prisoners and their newborns, including standards for the treatment and medical care of pregnant inmates, nutrition, prenatal and postnatal care and counseling services. Above all, this bill promotes inmate safety and good reproductive health for women returning to their communities by creating a uniform, statewide anti-shackling policy.

“All women deserve a safe, healthy pregnancy and birth experience,” said Senator Spilka. “It is shocking and outrageous that shackling is something that still happens, and with this vote today we are making a clear, strong statement that we do not allow the shackling of pregnant women in Massachusetts. It is unsafe, inhumane and completely unnecessary.”

Eighteen other states in the country prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates during the 2nd and 3rd trimester and post-partum because of its negative impact on reproductive health. Physical restraints can inhibit a physician’s ability to safely treat and assess the mother by reducing access to the patient and interfering with evaluation of the physical condition of the mother and the fetus. Shackling can make the labor and delivery process more difficult, putting the health and lives of these women and unborn children at risk. Although current law lays out the procedure for transferring pregnant inmates, it does not address the procedures used during labor, delivery, or recovery, and is silent on the issue of shackling.

“Every time someone learns that pregnant women are still shackled in Massachusetts, they respond the same way: they are uniformly appalled,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Legislative Counsel Gavi Wolfe. “Governor Patrick and now the state Senate have stepped up to address this ugly reality, and let’s hope the House shows similar leadership to swiftly and definitively end this barbaric practice once and for all.”

The bill will now be considered by the House of Representatives.

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