One step closer to ending shackling pregnant women in CA

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By Alicia Walters

Yesterday, the California State Assembly unanimously approved AB 2530 authored by Assembly member Toni Atkins. A straight-forward bill that would prohibit the most dangerous forms of shackling of pregnant incarcerated women, AB 2530 has garnered support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Pregnant women represent under one-tenth of the female population in correctional facilities - a population that has grown by 153% in recent years. Thanks to a 2005 law, the use of shackles during labor, delivery, and recovery are prohibited in California, however, there are no standards for when and how to safely restrain pregnant inmates throughout their pregnancies.

If you’re reading this, by now, you may have heard that 36 states in this nation, including California, shackle pregnant women in prisons and jails. In our state, pregnant women are frequently shackled by the ankles, wrists, belly, behind the back, and even to other people, causing many to fall. Even though the vast majority of women have no history of violence and pose no threat of escape, they are being restrained without regard to their health and safety.

You probably also know that organizations like ACOG, ACLU, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and the Center for Young Women’s Development have been trying to stop this practice for several years. Our legislators get it - they consistently vote for the bill. The public gets it - bring it up at your next family or social gathering and people will look at you in disbelief at the thought of pregnant women in chains.

So, why in California have advocates been successful in convincing everyone but Governors Brown and Schwarzenegger that our laws should surpass those of Arizona and Idaho? One would hope something more than politics.

That is what we’re hoping and confident in this year. That all things are on our side: more women are sharing harrowing stories of being chained to their hospital beds unable to use the restroom; doctors are raising their voices in frustration at not being able to treat pregnant inmates with potentially fatal complications; even prison guards think the bill makes sense. Throw in a little third time’s a charm and the higher consciousness associated with 2012 and this could be the year.

Maybe we are in year three of this crucial bill because change takes time, building trust and relationships with law enforcement so that they become partners instead of adversaries does not happen overnight. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the time has come for women’s health to trump politics. In this War on Women, let California be a conscientious objector. 

AB 2530 will now move on to the Senate. We will keep you posted on ways to get involved.

Alicia Walters is a consultant with the ACLU of Northern California through Creative. Justice. Works.