News Human Rights

Minnesota Law Protects Incarcerated Pregnant Women From Shackling, Provides Doulas

Nina Liss-Schultz

Among other things, the new law requires that inmates have access to mental health assessments and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum, and mandates that correctional facilities offer pregnancy and STD tests to inmates.

As of July 1, a Minnesota law is in effect that will protect incarcerated pregnant women in the state. The law sets new requirements for the state’s prisons relating to the treatment of prisoners during pregnancy and childbirth.

SF 2423 was passed unanimously in May by both the Minnesota house and senate, and was signed shortly after by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Nationally, the number of incarcerated women in the United States increased by 587 percent between 1980 and 2011, leaving more than 120,000 mothers incarcerated across the country, according to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated. More than 2.7 million children in the United States have a parent in prison.

In Minnesota, an estimated 4,200 pregnant women are arrested every year, according to Jessica Anderson, director of legislative affairs and communications for the state’s Children’s Defense Fund. Isis Rising, a “prison-based pregnancy, birth, and parenting project” based out of Minnesota that supported the new law, notes that pregnant women often face risks prior to incarceration, which affect both their health and the health of their children while in prison. The group noted in a statement:

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Many of our Isis Rising clients have experienced poverty, homelessness, drug use, mental health issues, and domestic violence. … This law is an essential first step in acknowledging the needs of incarcerated pregnant women and the importance of providing care that will promote maternal and child health in the context of incarceration.

The new law includes several important provisions for pregnant women’s health in prison. It requires, for example, that inmates have access to mental health assessments and treatment during pregnancy and postpartum, and mandates that correctional facilities offer pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease tests to inmates, along with prenatal, childbirth, and parenting materials. The law also bans the use of restraints and shackles on pregnant women in most circumstances, and allows women access to doulas as long as there is no extra cost to the state.

In 2007, Isis Rising, a project of the organization Everyday Miracles and funded by the University of Minnesota, began offering doula services to pregnant women in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee. The doulas coach incarcerated women through their pregnancy and offer support during the process. According to the University of Minnesota, the doula project at Shakopee has already shown signs of success. Sixty percent fewer children were born with costly cesarean sections in 2013 than in 2006, and no doula babies were born preterm.

Additionally, the shackling ban makes Minnesota the 20th state with such a ban on the books. But many states still allow the shackling of pregnant women, including during labor. The American Medical Association has called the practice of shackling women during childbirth “barbaric” and “medically hazardous.”

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