Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shackled and Giving Birth

Being shackled to a hospital bed while giving birth is not a normal though that comes to mind for most women but for some women this is the reality of what bringing a life into this world is.  The female prison population has grown over 400 percent since the introduction of mandatory minimum drug sentences in the 1980’s.  According to a 2008 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, over 215,000 women were behind bars. Two thirds of women behind bars are in prison due to non-violent drug or property offenses. Seventy five percent of women behind bars are mothers and five to six percent of women entering jail or prison are pregnant at the time. Those numbers are astonishing to say the least and the number of women being incarcerated every year is only continuing to rise.
Many would argue that prisons which were built to house men and are not equipped to handle the necessary health and reproductive needs of women. Prenatal care is often limited and the expectant mothers have very limited access to relatives and friends to help provide stability in the expectant mother’s life. There have been numerous cases and law suits where women have gone into labor and delivered their babies in their prison cell with the help of the prison nurse, fellow inmates, and correctional guards; because prison employees did not believe the women that they really were in labor.  Listed below is just one case where being pregnant while incarcerated turned deadly:
“In the Collier County Jail in Florida, Joan S. repeatedly sought medical attention because she was near her due date and leaking amniotic fluid; this went on for almost two weeks. By the time she got an ultrasound, the doctor informed her that all of her amniotic fluid was gone and her fetus’s skull had collapsed. Jail officials then delayed taking her to the hospital, putting her at risk for septic shock the longer the dead fetus remained inside her. As if this were not bad enough, the jail delayed giving her a shot she needed because she has Rh-negative blood, which could cause complications if she becomes pregnant in the future. She is only 22.” (

There are a few states, Illinois included where it is now illegal and unconstitutional for pregnant women to be shackled to a hospital bed while giving birth and after while receiving post-delivery care. Doctors argued that the risk involved when a woman is shackled to a bed during delivery is inhumane and a great health risk for the mother and the baby. If the mother needs moved abruptly to change positions to get the baby out or if a cesarean section is deemed necessary then  being shackled to a hospital bed prevents adequate care from being performed and can be life threatening.
            There is a bill currently in the works for the state of Massachusetts. The bill would require that all pregnant women behind bars be guaranteed medical care, access to specialists if need be, one hour of ambulatory movement a day,  a proper diet for expectant mothers, prenatal vitamins, and access to prenatal classes. There would also be appropriate post-partum care, including screenings for postpartum depression.  
There is no argument that these women have committed a crime and should be punished and incarcerated for their crimes, but even pregnant women behind bars deserve and should have the same opportunities and treatment as a woman who is not incarcerated. They should be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion  regardless of the misfortune of being pregnant and behind bars.


  1. The fact that pregnant women in prison have to give birth with shackles on is pretty sick. It’s completely understandable that women who commit crimes deserve to be incarcerated. However, prisons need to give pregnant women access to good health services. It’s completely unjust for women to risk loosing their child just because they happen to be incarcerated. The baby is an innocent human who did nothing to deserve anything bad that may happen to him/her because of bad prenatal care. Jails should give women the services they need while pregnant so they can have a healthy pregnancy.

  2. This is so sad. I could not even imagine someone having to give birth handcuffed to a bed. Not only is this dangerous for the mother, but for the reasons you stated it is dangerous for the child too. Complications from birth can arise from the birth mother being stuck in one position, and this jeopardizes the life of both the mother and the child. No child's life should be put in danger because of a mother's mistake that landed her in this situation. The story that you gave about the baby dying is so disturbing and wrong. Someone should have been punished for not believing that mother and leading this baby to their death. Not only did her baby die, but now she may never be able to have children again because she did not receive proper care. Something needs to be done for women that are in prison and are pregnant, because a baby's life should never be at risk before it is even born.

  3. I just wanted to start by saying great video that went with your blog! It is a sad truth to realize that there are women behind bars that are pregnant and committing crimes and ingesting narcotics. We do not know what life they are leading to get them into these places, and therefore you are right and they should have to atone for the crimes that they have committed. But do they really need to be shackled while giving birth? I would have to agree with you on this one, there are huge complications that can arise with even a normal pregnancy. Even with the best care that we can have we can't always be certain that a child can survive. With the added stress on the child because the mother is incarcerated, it is not a suitable environment for the child to be born into. When you shackle a mother to the bed in my opinion is very degrading and would take the joy out of a moment that is supposed to be beautiful. The quote you had in the middle of you blog was very disturbing that an institution would ignore a woman's due date that far to where the child had actually died. You blog was an excellent read, and i will be looking forward to more of your blogs!

    Andrew Serena