Six pregnant women shackled at the wrist, ankles and around their swollen bellies walked tirelessly through the streets of Sacramento. Their bodies uncomfortably lagging in the searing heat, they were desperate for relief from their restraints. Their delicate situations and the lives of their unborn children who would spend moments of their gestation with a shackle around their protective mother’s womb were of no consequence to those sitting, watching nearby.
Yesterday I had the privilege of joining the Center for Young Women’s Development and Project WHAT! In delivering nearly 1200 signatures in support of the Bill AB568 that would limit the use of restraints on incarcerated pregnant women throughout the state. While none of us were actually incarcerated or pregnant we thought it best to portray ourselves as such to illustrate the severity of this situation. It’s difficult to empathize with someone whose harsh reality is hidden behind the confines of a prison walls. Of the seven of us who made the trek to Sacramento, five of us were moms and at some point on our lives knew what it was like to be pregnant, knew what it felt like to have swollen extremities, back pain and be in a constant state of anxiousness, hoping, praying your baby was alright.
Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director, CYWD
Although the vast majority of incarcerated women are non-violent offenders, women as far along as 8 ½ months pregnant have been shackled in the most restrictive ways. Shackling pregnant women puts their health at risk. Because current state law does not address the use of shackles prior to labor, pregnant women in California are frequently shackled by the ankles, wrists and/or belly, and to another person, while being transported to and from a correctional facility. This practice poses unnecessary health risks to a pregnant woman by increasing the woman’s risk of falling and rendering her unable to break potential falls.
As advocates and moms we anxiously traveled 80 miles in hopes that we would be received by California Governor Jerry Brown or one of his legislative aides to speak on behalf of these women and share with them how dangerous it is to not standardize policy around the shackling of incarcerated women. Although meeting with the Governor is always a longshot – you hope that once you reach the Capitol some legislative magic will happen where he comes out, dolls out hugs and enthusiastically signs your bill into law right there on the spot. It didn’t quite happen like that. Before leaving Oakland we called and emailed several times in an effort to make an appointment to see Aaron Maguire, Governor Brown’s Deputy Legislative Secretary, but unfortunately he never got back to us.
We asked to speak directly to Mr. MacGuire when we arrived. We were met with security guards who informed us that without an appointment or anyone willing to receive us we would have to go back home. We waited in the lobby to see if a representative was available. The irony of being asked by security to remove our cuffs and chains felt bizarre – we were there so that incarcerated women with child would have that same liberty.
We were told the Governor wasn’t available and neither was Mr. MacGuire but we were able to speak to two of the Governors legislative aides who assured us they would get the signatures into Brown’s hands but could not give us an update on where the bill was because there were 600 other bills on his desk. We can only hope that he takes into consideration all of the supporters that back AB568 and ensures that incarcerated pregnant women are restrained in the least restrictive way possible when being transported to and from juvenile and adult correctional facilities.
Many thanks to all of you who signed our petition and shared it with your friends. We left knowing your hopes and dreams had been delivered.