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Tragic birthers
August 30, 2010 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Pennsylvania Outlaws Shackling of Prisoners Giving Birth. Amnesty International has tried to raise awareness of this issue in the past.

And the NYTimes did an article several years ago on what is, apparently, a wide spread practice in the United States. But it wasn't until today that the Pennsylvania legislature decided to outlaw it officially.

There is currently a grassroots youtube video asking that Schwarzenegger sign a recently passed California law to outlaw this practice as well. (previously)
posted by whimsicalnymph (42 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just when I think I've heard of all the crazy-ass shit this species can do to demonstrate an absolute failure to have any concept of decency. Shackling a woman who is giving birth? Fucking really?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:01 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Go PA!
posted by lumensimus at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2010


Because someone who has just given birth will make an escape attempt, still-damp infant clutched to her bosom as she scampers over walls and evades the police, then go on to rob a bank to pay for diapers.

Actually, if someone could do that, I'm all in favor of letting her go.
posted by adipocere at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


Well, that's right nice of them. Was there a problem with women bolting for the exits in between contractions?
posted by jquinby at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2010


Well, there was that one time that woman back in the 50s in Kansas was giving birth, and she used the momentary distraction of the guards to manufacture a hang glider from the gurney and sail to freedom. She also left the baby behind as an extra burden on the state. Since then, you can't be too careful, you know?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


fuh
posted by jquinby at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had no idea there were enough pregnant women in jail that this was an issue, but his gives me an idea. Anybody here a journalist? Here's a great idea that is guaranteed to keep you in trend pieces until retirement: There are so many people in jail in the U.S. that virtually any segment is or soon will be well represented behind bars. Just a few examples:

• Diabetic and Incarcerated - (get a quote from the warden about the challenges of convicts with needles! Changing the food they offer to accomodate special diets!)
• Incarcerated Liberal Arts majors - getting great job training in stuff they can actually use, from behind bars!
• Incarcerated Ex-Lawyers – helping themselves and other convicts, this time from the other side of the law! But what will they do when they get out and can't practice anymore!
• Parents of college students who are in jail - Tell me the New York Times wouldn’t run that, pictures of middle class moms and dads and freshmen moving into their NYU dorms alone.
• Former Gardeners/Architects/Feng Shui experts etc, fixing up the old gray buildings and planting something in the yard. "I'll be sad to see them go," says the warden.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


well consider a psychotic woman, in for murder, she is giving birth...shackles do not seem THAT unnecessary...

runs
posted by clavdivs at 2:13 PM on August 30, 2010


Shackling a woman who is giving birth? Fucking really?

Well, you know, if we're using the same logic that sees unarmed children running away as the same thing as armed criminals shooting weapons at you, by the same token, women in prison would immediately use their newborn children as shanks and the umbilical cords as strangulation devices before bringing down civilization as we know it through free rides on welfare.

Or something.
posted by yeloson at 2:13 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the story on Tina Torres, in the first link: In June 2008, newly appointed Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the shackling of women during labor, a widespread practice condemned by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for being medically risky as well as “demeaning and unnecessary.”

Well, duh. These three words describe about 92% of policies applying to prisoners in the USA, so far as I can tell. If you can't arbitrarily demean prisoners, who are you going to demean?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2010


It's not about making sure they don't escape, it's about punishing them for being knocked up and in jail.
posted by amethysts at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


If they aren't shackled, a helicopter parent could fly in and carry them away to freedom, unless they just gave birth to an anchor baby.
posted by orme at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


Wow, 17 minutes until anchor babies made their appearance. I'm disappointed. You can do better, Mefites!
posted by tippiedog at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally, I don't think shackling goes far enough. It's well documented that women giving birth are filled with all sorts of hormones and adrenaline, just like the Rage victims in 28 Days Later, and I worry that as the baby is crowning, the mother might chew off her foot coyote style to make a stunning escape by disemboweling a nearby guard with her own amputated limb.

Expectant mothers are the greatest threat to this nations security.

[Vote "quin" for Governor, Republican party, 2012]
posted by quin at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2010


I wonder if the doctor waits until after birth to place the shackle on the newborn, or if they attempt to do that in utero?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:42 PM on August 30, 2010


All yucks aside, what does it say that they need to pass a law about this?
posted by signal at 2:54 PM on August 30, 2010


I had no idea there were enough pregnant women in jail that this was an issue

In about 2001 I did a paper on the differences between men's and women's prison systems (admittedly I was a junior in high school at the time so it was not, like, super scholarly) but the statistic I remember from that time is one in nineteen women entering prison being pregnant. I don't have a cite and it's been a long time but it's a data point.

I don't know much else for sure, but I believe that there are prisons in which not shackling women giving birth is a matter of policy but not a matter of law. It becomes a question of whose responsibility it is to set this sort of policy and whether there should be a law rather than a departmental policy that can be reviewed by those who actually run prisons. I'm not for shackling women giving birth, I think it's a horrific idea, but I also think there is some merit to allowing heads of departments to make decisions regarding those departments rather than codifying them as law.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:59 PM on August 30, 2010


posted by lumensimus Go PA!

No, they were shackling Ma.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:02 PM on August 30, 2010


I should note that I don't think that departmental heads in state government should be given complete leeway in everything, just that I am generally leery of non-experts making policies rather than trusting people who work in that area and have more experience (this is partially based on my experiences working in education).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:03 PM on August 30, 2010


It's about time. I had never though a PA law could get any more ridiculous than those governing alcohol sales. Until I heard about this.
posted by troublewithwolves at 3:07 PM on August 30, 2010


Well, I'll just file this under "Shit I can't believe they still do."
posted by marxchivist at 3:09 PM on August 30, 2010


The main (but hidden) reason that prisoners are shackled during birth is that birthing is often a moment of joy and we, as a society, have decided that prisoners should not experience joy -- even the joy felt between a mother and child.

Because, you know, we're so pro-life.
posted by Azazel Fel at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


And they call it a "civilization" without a hint of irony.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:15 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


There have been instances when we've had a female inmate try to hurt hospital staff during delivery.

I would like to preface the following by saying that I don't think women in labor should be shackled or in any other way restrained, ever.

However... there are risks to the nursing staff in situations where women in labor become violent. My mother was a L&D nurse attending the delivery of a recently released inmate and had to physically hold this woman down to wrestle her legs apart so the baby could get out. In the process, she was kicked repeatedly in the neck. As "luck" would have it, the injury caused permanent nerve damage and my mother is now permanently disabled. She had helped to deliver hundreds of babies, and only went on to deliver one more before having to quit her job permanently.

A woman in labor needs support, but the nurses do also need to be kept safe in the event of violence. This woman will never know the amount of harm she caused to my mother's life and career - because of her violence during birth, she inflicted an injury that causes my mother to be in chronic debilitating pain. I wasn't there, but I know from all accounts that the kicking was not "accidental." This is not normal labor "squirming." This is a woman with a history of violence who lashed out physically at the nurse who was trying to help her.

I'm rambling, but in any case, while I do not think that any woman should be restrained during labor, I think it bears mentioning that there is an actual risk to the medical staff involved when delivering the baby of a woman with a history of violence.

well consider a psychotic woman, in for murder, she is giving birth...shackles do not seem THAT unnecessary...

Well, yeah, that's pretty much what happened. Not in for murder, but just out for assault. And psychotic. It's a serious, serious issue. I hope my anecdote at least points out that the reason for the shackles is not a perceived flight risk, but rather a risk of injury to the staff.
posted by sonika at 3:24 PM on August 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "If you can't arbitrarily demean prisoners, who are you going to demean?"

Airline prisoners passengers.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


I do not think that any woman should be restrained during labor

You don't think that the woman in your story should have been restrained? Is there a misunderstanding here?
posted by grouse at 3:59 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


grouse: No, I don't think she should have been restrained. But I think that there needs to be an understanding of the risk involved. Shit happens, and I was using my mom's story as an illustration of said shit, not saying "ZOMG! She should have been restrained!"
posted by sonika at 4:29 PM on August 30, 2010


Absent special circumstances like those sonika outlines, particular to that inmate, this (former) practice gives new meaning to the phrase "cruel and unusual punishment."

I hate to point this out, but a couple more wrinkles are worth noting. First, it is unusual that women who give birth in prison get to stay with their children. Here is one exceptional program that allows that. Second, it is not unheard of for a female prisoner to be impregnated by a corrections officer, which is one reason why Congress passed a law criminalizing custodial sexual assaults by anyone.
posted by bearwife at 4:37 PM on August 30, 2010


"I don't think women in labor should be shackled or in any other way restrained, ever."

"had to physically hold this woman down to wrestle her legs apart so the baby could get out."

Is having to physically hold someone down to wrestle her legs apart somehow different from restraining her?
posted by placeholder at 4:42 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sonika, that was a remarkably thoughtful comment, especially given how strongly you must feel about what happened. Thanks for sharing.
posted by jhc at 4:58 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


placeholder: The physics involved were that the woman would not open her legs in order to allow the baby's head to come out, so her legs had to be held open. Very different from being shackled in that she was held by a person's hands, not a restraint, and that the goal was only to get the baby out and then she was immediately let go of. If her legs hadn't been held apart somehow, the baby simply wouldn't have been able to get out.
posted by sonika at 5:00 PM on August 30, 2010


sonika, thanks. I get that (and agree with what jhc said).

I am also in the no-shackles camp, generally speaking. But I think there are circumstances where some sort of restraining may be necessary. One of those circumstances has been described by you.

"If her legs hadn't been held apart somehow, the baby simply wouldn't have been able to get out."

I am not sure I understand why manual restraining is better than mechanical restraining (both temporary, and to be removed as soon as circumstances allow), especially given the dangers to those called upon to provide such manual restraining.
posted by placeholder at 5:45 PM on August 30, 2010


I am not sure I understand why manual restraining is better than mechanical restraining (both temporary, and to be removed as soon as circumstances allow), especially given the dangers to those called upon to provide such manual restraining.

Manual restraining provides a risk to whoever is doing the restraining, whereas mechanically, the patient herself is at risk if she struggles too hard since there's no "give" to the restraint. It's an imperfect problem. The solution is ideally to have someone trained in restraint present, and nurses aren't always able to do that and simultaneously attend to the rest of their job.
posted by sonika at 6:00 PM on August 30, 2010


"The solution is ideally to have someone trained in restraint present, and nurses aren't always able to do that and simultaneously attend to the rest of their job."

Amen to that.
posted by placeholder at 6:03 PM on August 30, 2010


one reason why Congress passed a law criminalizing custodial sexual assaults by anyone.

Eh? Isn't criminal assault criminal from the get-go? Not that I'm against making the punishments even more severe for those who assault from a position of power.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on August 30, 2010


Also, it seems clear to me that the problem isn't so much that birthing convict mothers were being restrained mechanically, but that all such were being restrained, when only the truly psychotic ones are the problem.

Like most laws, the problem arises when the law is applied absolutely, instead of with a little common sense.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:18 PM on August 30, 2010


Like most laws, the problem arises when the law is applied absolutely, instead of with a little common sense.

People have no common sense when it comes to treatment of prisoners. Maybe because most movies featuring characters behind bars are about criminal masterminds with elaborate plans, or a taste for human brains, or both.

(or if it's the Green Mile, magical powers, I guess).

Whereas your average woman behind bars is there for drug offenses, or theft, or what have you.
posted by emjaybee at 8:11 PM on August 30, 2010


Imprisonment and its effect on the prisoners, their families and particularly their children is just terribly sad. I honestly don't think that shackling women during delivery can make it any worse: the prison system is already so awful that this is just another detail.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:36 PM on August 30, 2010


The definition of "shackles" is important here. If it refers to standard had/leg cuffs, then it's eminently reasonable. Putting cuffs on a woman in labor almost guarantees she'll be injured, since they are designed to cut in cases of resistance.

If it refers to any sort of restraints, that's another issue, since, as sonika points out, there are cases where restraint is called for. But there needs to be objective oversight of any use of restraints, in order to prevent their overuse.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:42 PM on August 30, 2010


Mrs. Pterodactyl: I also think there is some merit to allowing heads of departments to make decisions regarding those departments rather than codifying them as law.

The problem is that there's no upside for correctional officials to make this decision. Say you're an official in a state prison system. You have to come up with a policy for the treatment of inmates receiving offsite medical treatment (sure, some births may happen in prison hospitals, but the issue is similar). You can do the right thing and say pregnant inmates shouldn't be shackled while giving birth, but then you have a whole mess of problems:

* The prison guard's union (incredibly strong in California, for example) screams "soft on crime" and "puts our members at risk."
* There may be rare special cases where someone is violent or psychotic and should be restrained physically during childbirth. Now you have to have a policy to classify these inmates and defend the classification against the inevitable appeals and lawsuits that will result.
* Someday, an inmate is going to do something during childbirth (like sonika's sad example) that results in a public stink or at least an internal investigation. When this happens, the blame will rain down on your shoulders for writing such an irresponsible policy.

Or you can do the simple thing, as a number of states have done, and say that all inmates receiving offsite medical treatment should be shackled. Throw in an exception for medical necessity, a few paragraphs of verbiage, and you're done. Some people will complain of course, but those people are largely unimportant in society (pregnant inmates and the occasional rights advocate), and they can't get you in trouble anyway because, well, it's long-standing policy they are fighting against. Bureaucrats and administrators like preserving their jobs and dislike being blamed for large messes.

The solution, of course, is for the most teflon-coated institution available to step in: the legislature. Now, the decision is hundreds of people's fault! Sure, codifying these decisions in law really sucks, because it's inflexible and a pain to change and not beholden to evidence, but there's very little incentive for heads of departments to make these kinds of calls, and plenty of reasons for them not to do so.
posted by zachlipton at 12:48 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh...I thought the standard procedure for prisons here in PA is too simply ignore the pregnancy.

"In an interview Saturday, Ms. Staten contended prison officials ignored her repeated pleas over a four-hour period to be hospitalized after going into labor. She said she was alone as she gave birth. The baby fell to the floor near her cell door while she tried to get guards’ attention, she said. She finally got them to take her to the hospital by picking up the baby and showing it to them, she said."
posted by the bricabrac man at 5:40 AM on August 31, 2010


full story linked above (can't find a better source off-hand)
posted by whatzit at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2010


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