Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shackling Women in Child Birth

Mothers Behind Bars: The Appalling Treatment of Women with Children in Prison.

The report, being released Thursday by the National Women's Law Center and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, analyzes policies in three areas — prenatal care, shackling of pregnant women during childbirth, and community-based alternatives to incarceration enabling mothers to be with their children.

"It's shameful that so many states fail to have laws and policies to protect this vulnerable population of unseen and largely forgotten women," said Jill Morrison, a co-author of the report and senior counsel at the law center.

According to the report, pregnant women entering prison often have high-risk pregnancies, yet many states lack comprehensive policies to ensure they receive essential prenatal care. The report said a majority of states do not require medical examinations as a component of prenatal care, and do not offer pregnant women screening for HIV/AIDS.

The report also said most states have failed to implement strict limits on the use of shackles or other restraints on mothers during labor and delivery. Morrison said the actual use of shackles during childbirth has likely declined in recent years, but she complained that many states lacked firm, clear-cut regulations governing the practice.

South Carolina, which received an 'F' grade overall, vigorously defended its policies on prenatal care and shackling, saying there were misrepresented in the report.

"When the S.C. Department of Corrections receives a pregnant inmate through our courts, she is afforded complete medical and prenatal care," department spokesman Josh Gelinas said in an e-mail. He said pregnant women past the 20th week of pregnancy are not restrained except for specific security reasons.

Like what? She's going to try and escape just as her water breaks? "She's done gone and left! Someone follow them water trails!"

Sick. There has never been a justification for shackling a woman during child birth, and we're not talking just hands & feet, or arms & legs; we're talking about "belly shackles" across the stomach during labor. The practice is a relic from the good ol' days of treating women as chattel (or worse), and that somehow the miracle of childbirth should be extinguished at all costs for these "wayward" women.

How much does this happen every year? You'd be surprised. Approximately 5% of women entering prison each year (and 6% in jails) are pregnant and due to give birth. In real numbers, that's anywhere from 2,000-3,000 live births annually.

Beyond that, the report itself is chock-full of other bad news regarding a woman's access to health care while incarcerated, particularly prenatal and postnatal care and follow up.

Seventeen states received a failing grade (F) for their lack of adequate access to family-based treatment programs for non-violent women who are parenting. Thirty-eight states received failing grades (D/F) for failing to offer prison nurseries to new mothers who are incarcerated.
Georgia ranked 45th, five from the bottom, in treatment of women with children behind bars. The report card gave us an F for shackling during labor, an F for prenatal care, an F for prison nurseries, and an overall grade of D+ (which is probably being generous, seeing that "D+" doesn't even exist as a normative grade; it's either a D or F).

Worse, the research has pointed out for years that this kind of treatment of newborns and young children puts them at risk for a variety of behavioral and social pathologies later in life: behaviorally stunted, educationally disadvantaged and, in the ultimate irony, an increased chance of ending up delinquent themselves (see my previous post on "Generation Incarceration").

Why has nothing changed? Because the patriarchal, sexist and misogynistic treatment of women is ingrained in the world of punishment. "Them women is gonna learn their lesson" is still the mantra after all these years.

No comments: