In Prisons, Women Are Shackled While Giving Birth

At the end of last week, the Rebecca Project for Human Rights and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released a disturbing new report, highlighting the terrible conditions for pregnant women and mothers in the U.S. prison system, the vast majority of whom are non-violent, first-time offenders.  The 52-page report focuses in particular on the practice of shackling women during childbirth, which is still completely unlimited in 22 states. 

Shackling women while they’re giving birth makes the process of labor and delivery much more painful, and make it more difficult for doctors to assess the health of the mother and the infant.  The practice thus poses a significant threat to both, in addition to being a completely humiliating and dehumanizing way of experiencing birth.

Some other disturbing facts from the report:

Forty-nine states fail to report all incarcerated women’s pregnancies and their outcomes.

Thirty-eight states do not offer any prison nursery programs.

Thirty-four states do not require screening and treatment for women with high risk pregnancies.

The report points out that the prison system was designed with a primarily male population in mind.  “For this reason,” the report’s authors write, “while most health care in a prison setting could be described as barely adequate at best for men falls even shorter from meeting the basic needs of women. Care for pregnant women is even more dismal, considering their additional health needs.”

In other words: both state and federal prisons are doing an abysmal job of providing health care to all of their inmates, but particularly to pregnant women, who comprise one of the most vulnerable prison populations.

Photo from Flickr.


William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thanks for caring.

W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Terrible, thank you for the information.

JAMES HOLLEY6 years ago

Colleen W.,
I like that you brought up the “eye for an eye…tooth for a tooth” quote. This is a biblical/Jewish/Christian concept given by G-d to His people, as you apparently already know.
However, since a lot of readers are not familiar with it, please allow me to elaborate. If someone knocks out one of my teeth, my natural, human instinct is to try to knock out ALL of their teeth. G-d says “no.” If the damage done is only one tooth, then all I am entitled to is one tooth, not 20.
G-d’s way is that the punishment MUST fit the crime. In other words, don’t cut off someone’s hand just because they stole a loaf of bread OR… don’t make a woman give birth in shackles just because she wrote a few hot checks!!! (and the really, really sad thing is, most of the people who support stuff like shackling women in labor and delivery claim to be Christians and run for office under the Republican platform…go figure…).
Again, Colleen, thanks for bringing up that scripture, it IS a founding principle in our judicial system, but evidently not in our incarceration system…

JAMES HOLLEY6 years ago

Teresa M.,
I was talking to a RUM (resident unit manager) in a Michigan prison once and she commented, “Well you know all these women in here are here for a reason…” To which I replied, “If that were true, then there would be no reason for the appeal process. And since the appeal process does result in verdict reversals, evidently not ALL of those women belong there.” And then I asked her, “Are you telling me that every single woman in prison deserves to be there and that the appeal process is useless and needs to be dismantled?” …and the RUM hung up on me…
Teresa, are you also saying that all women in prison should be there? Because if that is your position, then it also goes to say that you don’t believe in the appeal process and that you don’t believe that attorneys (judges are just attorneys who have been to judge school, I worked for one once…), never never never ever made a mistake? Come on, now, Teresa, do you really trust attorneys that much?

David F.
David F7 years ago

Totally unbelievable. Who are the morons who voted "Yes" or "Leaning Yes?" I'll bet Teresa M. did. So, Teresa, apparently you know more about their incarceration than the rest of us. I guess I missed the part in the article about how these women showed their "victim" no compassion. You are assuming that they are violent and have attacked other people. I suppose that drugs, shoplifting, prostitution, or some other non-violent crime couldn't possibly be a reason for their being in prison.

Jessica C.
Jessica C7 years ago

Seems odd, since politicans are so in favor of pregnancy... Oh yeah, it is the women and babies they don't actually care about, I forgot. We cannot blame the caregivers for being restrained by the system, blame those who deserve it, the people who make the policies and appropriate funding.

Colleen W.
Colleen W.7 years ago

This is part of the punishment/retribution process. Our prisons are built upon the "eye for an eye" justice model. The very idea that a woman would commit a crime makes her subhuman in the first place, and a pregnant woman is even worse, in the eyes of those who run these places and make these laws.
Think on this; we elect these people. We buy the products that their sponsors sell. We do not insist on real news, we insist on celebrity news.
By doing those things, we have allowed these things to occur. If We, the People, want these things to change, we must bring the change to these loathsome characters. We, the People, need to email, call and write the elected officials we hired that make these laws, and let them know that this does not fly.
It is up to us. We, the People, created this, and We, the People, can destroy it. Hopefully, before we are no longer We, the People.

Silvia F.
Silvia Francis7 years ago

I feel it is inhuman to even think of it leave alone doing it . A barbaric act.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti7 years ago

Give me a break. A woman in labor is already shackled by that process and is in enough distress without adding to it with chains and locks.

Susanne R.
Susanne R7 years ago

Should the crimes of the mother result in the unsafe and undignified birth of her innocent child? Is a woman in labor, and especially in its final stages, really an escape threat? If you can't muster up any sympathy for the mom, even if her crime is minor and her first, then find it in your heart to feel some pity for the innocent child. I was so blessed that my wonderful daughter allowed me to assist in the birth of each of her three children. I can't begin to tell you what a miracle I witnessed at each birth. Nothing --other than the birth of my own children, which I couldn't bring myself to observe-- was a bigger miracle or brought me as much pure joy and elation as seeing these little miracles, whom I already loved with all my heart, enter this world. The love, tears, and joy of their parents put the icing on the cake! And the intensity of those emotions didn't diminish with each birth. Each subsequent birth was as incredible as the first. Every child deserves the chance to take their first breath in a room filled with love and joy! The crimes of the mother should not reflect on the child!

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful moms out there --but especially to those who care enough to read about and comment on the injustices inflicted upon women and children!