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Incarcerated Women: Pregnancy, Childbirth & Shackling

Incarcerated Women: Pregnancy, Childbirth & Shackling highlights the dehumanizing and deeply harmful practices endured by pregnant and birthing people in our prisons and jails. These practices are part of the continuum of reproductive injustices inflicted on the women and gender expansive people most targeted for criminalization and incarceration: Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and people from economically marginalized communities. They reflect the continuum of violence, racism, and gender oppression that Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience every day – experiences that led Black women to develop the powerful concept of Reproductive Justice. Visit SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective to learn more about their critical work and the concept and origin of Reproductive Justice.

We hope this piece contributes to critical organizing led by women and gender expansive people directly impacted by incarceration to end shackling, advance reproductive justice, and transform our criminal legal system.

"I felt very uncomfortable. I’m having my baby and... officers are standing right there like I’m going to try and escape during contractions." 1
"The [officer] always took so long the nurses would end up feeding her formula because I was never there in time to breastfeed her." 1
"I had to breastfeed my baby while shackled.... I had to sit in a wheelchair for hours at a time shackled in pain." 1
"I remember going to bed hungry many, many nights. Those pregnancy snacks don’t do much for a pregnant woman...." 1
"When I came from Albion to Bedford, I was in full restraints during the 11-hour bus ride (shackles, cuffs, waist chain, black box) at 4 ½ months pregnant.... It was an awful experience I will not forget.” 1
"They shackled one of my hands to the metal of the bed, and so I was like that the whole time … They still had me cuffed to the bed when I had to push…. They didn’t even take my handcuffs off until after I was stitched up, the placenta was taken out, and I was in the prison ward." 2
"They didn’t even remove my cuffs for me to hold my baby. I had to hold my baby with one hand and it was only for like 2-3 seconds. And [then] they took my baby away…." 2
"I was almost six months, and I lost the pregnancy. They shackled me – full shackles… It was the most dehumanizing, embarrassing, degrading, animalistic thing I have ever experienced...." 2
"...They kept me cuffed to the bed for the entire procedure.... The grief of losing the child and where I was at, my circumstances.… There was no service, there was no, 'We’re sorry.' It just happened, and then that was it. No one ever said anything." 2
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1 From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)

2 From Reproductive Injustice: Shackling During Pregnancy, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, December 8, 2015