The ACLU applauds yesterday’s House passage of legislation restricting the shackling of pregnant prisoners. The bill, supported by the ACLU, the RI State Nurses Association, the RI Medical Society, RI NOW, DARE and other groups is sponsored by Rep. Donna Walsh. It generally bars the restraint of pregnant incarcerated women by handcuffs, shackles, and waist restraints during transport, labor, delivery, and recovery, and allows only “medically appropriate” restraints to be used during the second and third trimester of an inmate’s pregnancy. 

If the legislation is sent to the Governor’s desk and signed into law this session, Rhode Island will join at least ten other states which have restricted or prohibited the shackling of pregnant women. None of those states have any documented incidents of inmates escaping or causing harm to themselves or others as a result of these laws.  Shackling is condemned by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and international organizations such as the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International have identified the practice as a human rights violation and called for its end.

The vast majority of female prisoners in Rhode Island are non-violent offenders who already pose a low security risk, particularly during labor, delivery and recovery.  Current Department of Corrections (DOC) policies ban the use of restraints during delivery, but allow for the routine handcuffing of pregnant inmates while being transported to the hospital for delivery and  shackling during post-partum recuperation at the hospital (even though a guard must maintain visual contact outside the hospital room at all times and other security measures are in place).  This legislation, which does permit corrections’ officials to use the least restrictive restraints necessary for individuals perceived as a security risk, will protect women and their children from any unnecessary harm during and after childbirth.

The House bill passed by a vote of 48-16, and is expected to be considered and voted on by the Senate within the next month. A Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry, has already passed the Senate, and is pending in House committee.