Over the past year, we have invited a number of reproductive justice advocates to write about the barbaric practice still used in many United States prisons of shackling pregnant women, sometimes for transport, sometimes throughout their incarceration, and often while they are giving birth. Articles have been written on this issue by Tonya Williams, Malika Saada Saar, Anna Clark, and Amie Newman, among others, and we chronicled the passage of anti-shackling bills in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington State. The American Medical Association, the Association of Certified Nurse Midwives, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Watch among other leading medical and human rights organizations oppose shackling of pregnant women.
Given the building consensus that shackling pregnant women is not only unnecessary–the vast majority are in prison for non-violent crimes in the first place–but degrading to say the least, it was a shock to find out this morning that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill passed by the California Legislature to end shackling of pregnant women in his state.
Earlier this month, LeaJay Harper detailed her experiences as a youth advocate working with women in prison and the effects watching women be shackled during pregnancy had on her. At that time, she called on Schwarzenegger, as many California advocates have, to end the practice.
The bill, AB1900, writes Karen Shain, policy director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, in the San Francisco Chronicle “faced no opposition.”
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It passed the Legislature without a single no vote. We joined together with more than 50 organizations, including medical groups, county boards of supervisors and women’s rights organizations, all of whom wrote letters and testified in support of our bill.
“On Monday,” Shain continues, “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed our bill.”
This veto is particularly mean spirited and only serves to support the stereotype that incarcerated women are dangerous and must be subdued at all times. During these horrendous budget times, when there is a steadily shrinking safety net, AB1900 was an inexpensive solution to a human rights problem.
She recounts the story of Pauline Latu
“My organization, was contacted last fall by Pauline Latu, a woman being held in Contra Costa County Jail. She had never been in jail before, and her charges were for a nonviolent crime. She found out she was pregnant while she was in jail and was released about two weeks before she delivered her baby.”
She went to court at least 10 times, and every time she left the jail, she was shackled — sometimes around her belly, sometimes attached to another prisoner. Near the end of her pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia and had to be hospitalized shackled to her bed, having to ask permission from a guard every time she had to go to the bathroom.
Pauline asked us if this could possibly be legal. Weren’t there protections for pregnant women? How could they treat her like this when she had no record of escape or of violence? While it was legal, we didn’t think it was fair, and a coalition of women’s rights activists joined with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to make it illegal to shackle a pregnant woman, unless there were a security reason to keep her restrained. Even then, the bill instructed jailers to use the least restraint necessary under her specific circumstances.
“We saw AB1900 as just the beginning. Today, I have to call Pauline and tell her we failed. How can I explain that California is just not ready to treat women like her humanely?”
It seems increasingly in the United States that politicians are finding new and increasingly degrading ways to shame women, from restricting the rights of all women to choose whether, when, and with whom to have a child, to treating non-violent pregnant prisoners as they would slaves, enchained, shackled, degraded.
It’s hard to see how much further degraded our own sense of human decency can get.
Here is the governor’s veto message:
To the Members of the California State Assembly:
I am returning Assembly Bill 1900 without my signature.
This bill would prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates and wards during transport to and from correctional facilities except when other less restrictive restraints are deemed necessary.
Additionally, this bill would require the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) to develop guidelines concerning the shackling of pregnant inmates and wards during transport. However, CSA’s mission is to regulate and develop standards for correctional facilities, not establish policies on transportation issues to and from other locations.
Since this bill goes beyond the scope of CSA’s mission, I am unable to sign this bill.