The ACLU commends Governor Lincoln Chafee’s signing into law a bill restricting the shackling of pregnant prisoners. The law generally bars the restraint of pregnant incarcerated women by handcuffs, shackles, and waist restraints during transport, labor, delivery, and recovery, and allows only “medically appropriate” restraints to be used during the second and third trimester of an inmate’s pregnancy. This legislation, which does permit corrections’ officials to use the least restrictive restraints necessary for individuals perceived as a security risk, will protect women and their children from any unnecessary harm during and after childbirth.
The ACLU first received dozens of pages of documents concerning Department of Corrections policies as the result of an open records lawsuit filed last year. Despite the fact that the vast majority of female prisoners in Rhode Island are non-violent offenders who pose a low security risk, particularly during labor, delivery and recovery, these documents revealed that Department of Corrections (DOC) policies at the time allowed for the routine handcuffing of pregnant inmates while being transported to the hospital for delivery and for shackling during post-partum recuperation at the hospital (even though a guard must maintain visual contact outside the hospital room at all times and other security measures are in place).
The bill, supported by the ACLU, the RI State Nurses Association, the RI Medical Society, RI NOW, DARE and other groups, was sponsored by Sen. Rhoda Perry and Rep. Donna Walsh. Rhode Island now joins at least ten other states in restricting or prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women, ensuring that shackling, a major human rights and civil rights concern within the United States and the international community, does not take place in Rhode Island.