The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Report Finds Few Protections for Pregnant Prisoners

Women prisoners largely unsafe from rape, mistreatment

by Brendan Coyne

Mar. 6, 2006 – Prison officials regularly order the shackling of pregnant inmates – even while the prisoner is giving birth, according to a recently released report on state and federal corrections policies governing women inmates.

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The study, conducted by the United States arm of Amnesty International and released last Wednesday, also found that the state and federal prison systems lack proper procedures and laws to protect women inmates from sexual assault by jail staff.

According to Amnesty’s survey, 41 states and the federal corrections system permit the use of restraints on pregnant women and 23 states, plus the Federal Bureau of Prisons, allow women to be restrained during labor. Eight states have no official written policy on the practice, Amnesty said, and just two states – Illinois and California – have specific laws limiting the restraint of pregnant women.

Sunday, the New York Times reported that one Arkansas inmate who had her legs shackled during childbirth against her wishes, and against the wishes of attending medical staff, is suing the state over the practice. Her captors removed the restraints only during delivery, the paper reported.

Several states are considering ending the practice of using restraints on pregnant and birthing women. According to the Associated Press, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Matt Frank directed his staff to put an end to the practice in January.

Amnesty cited a series of news reports documenting instances of pregnant-inmate shackling in Wisconsin, including an incident last fall in which corrections officers took a woman to the hospital in restraints and had her pregnancy forcibly induced.

Protections for pregnant prisoners are not the only safeguards absent from US prison systems. Few states have laws protecting any female inmates from sexual predation by jailers, the report found. Vermont has no law against such acts, known to officialdom as "custodial sexual misconduct," but considered rape by women’s advocates Six other states do not directly address the issue, Amnesty found: Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey and Utah.

And while many states do have laws and polices governing such relations, most fail to adequately take into account the inherent difference in power such "relationships" have rendering "consensual" sex between inmates and jailers impossible in the eyes of Amnesty.

In both Nevada and Delaware, for example, an inmate involved in sexual activity with a prison guard or other worker faces criminal charges unless she can prove the person raped her. Laws in both states call for guards and officers to be punished for sexual acts with prisoners regardless of consent.

Arizona law is even more draconian toward inmates, providing for criminal punishment even if the sex was not consensual, according to Amnesty. In a footnote to the report, Amnesty said correction of this is of "paramount importance." Arizona does punish officers and guards for the action as well, the report noted.

"When a woman can be held criminally liable for sex with a guard, or when a guard can claim consent as a defense, it demonstrates a horrible misuse of power," Amnesty USA Executive Director William F. Schulz said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. "Furthermore, restraining a woman in the throes of labor endangers her and the child she is carrying. All correctional facilities should review their legislation and policies to ensure that they are protecting women inmates."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the March 6, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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