Criminal Justice Legislative Priority: “Anti-Shackling of Incarcerated Pregnant Women Act of 2013”
On Tuesday, September 17, I introduced the “Anti-Shackling of Incarcerated Pregnant Women Act of 2013.” This legislation changes the standard operating procedures in the District of Columbia correctional system. The bill establishes that no woman who is pregnant while in the custody of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (D.C. DOC) can be shackled at any time while she is pregnant, during labor, during transport to a medical facility for treatment related to being pregnant, during delivery of her child, or during post-partum for a six week period. This bill aslo requires the D.C. DOC, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Halfway Houses, and the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS) to collect and publish data about the practices of using restraints in their required quarterly reports and during annual oversight hearings before the Council. The bill also requires enhanced staff training and detailed notice to incarcerated women about this act.
I have introduced this legislation because it is an important human rights issue that must be addressed in D.C. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, eighteen states already have laws prohibiting shackling pregnant prisoners. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the number of female inmates is rising five-fold every year, mostly due to increased prosecutions and convictions of offenses related to “recreational” drugs. There are currently more than 200,000 women in U.S. prisons, and at least 12,000 of those women are pregnant at the time of incarceration. The D.C. DOC reported that in July of 2013, the daily average of women and juveniles in the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility was 137. What we do not know is how many of these women enter the D.C. criminal justice system pregnant or how many of them deliver while they are incarcerated. D.C. government officials, with oversight, need to know how these situations are handled and how these women are treated during pregnancy.
Currently, the D.C. DOC regulations only address shackles on women who are in their last trimester of pregnancy. There is a restriction for using shackling restraints during labor and delivery or immediately following delivery unless the inmate poses an extraordinary security risk. My bill would ensure that no woman is shackled during her pregnancy or for up to a six-week period during post-partum recovery. This measure will ensure both the safety of the mother and of the fetus. There is always a concern for balancing the safety of our corrections officers, the mothers, and the fetus. In this circumstance, I do not believe that laboring women are a flight risk. Studies in the other 18 states that have banned shackling have shown that women who were laboring, delivering, or recovering from child-birth posed little to no threat to the corrections officers, the hospital staff, or to themselves.
This is not a problem that will remedy itself, especially while we watch the number of women being incarcerated rapidly increasing each year. It is important that the Council addresses its responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable to adverse treatment especially when no one is watching. I believe that we must have safeguards in place to recognize that punishment for a crime does not equate to the loss of an individual’s right to appropriate safety measures, medical attention, and personal dignity. We live in a progressive city that often sets the standards for other cities and states nationwide. It is imperative that we join the other states that have passed similar anti-shackling.
Some might argue that the section of this bill that will require data collection is costly and cumbersome. However, it is essential that we maintain records about government funded Departments and their activities. These systems of record keeping in the prisons should already be in place and if they are not, we need to hold our prison systems to a higher standard. I have stood, and will continue to stand, on a platform of transparency and accountability. The D.C. DOC has significant room for improvement in collecting accurate and timely data and reporting it to the Mayor, the Council, and most importantly the residents of the District.
Women who are about to enter the criminal justice system must be educated about their rights while they are in prison. They should be afforded the appropriate care and should not be subject to any kind of shackling or restraint while they are experiencing labor or delivery. This is a basic human right and it is our duty as civic leaders to stand behind all members of our community.