Incarcerated Women: Pregnancy, Childbirth & Shackling

“Shackling pregnant women violates human rights and illuminates the criminal legal system’s culture of punishment. This happens because we do not value women of color and women from low-income communities. Formerly and currently incarcerated women continue to drive anti-shackling reforms with their expertise and brilliance. Valuing this leadership is what we need in our movement and our society.”

 – Miyhosi Benton, policy expert and leader in NY’s successful 2015 anti-shackling campaign   

Pregnant women sent to prisons and jails in 2016

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STATE
PRISON

0

FEDERAL
PRISON

0

LOCAL
JAIL

Percent of women who are
pregnant at admission

0 %
STATE PRISON
0 %
FEDERAL PRISON
0 %
LOCAL JAIL

1,400 babies born

to women in prison in 2016

All estimates here are extrapolated from limited existing data

No federal government reports

provide current data about incarcerated pregnant women

Women of color are disproportionately incarcerated

yet no national studies report on incarcerated pregnant women’s race and ethnicity

No data exist on incarcerated transgender and gender expansive people who are pregnant

Incarcerated mothers are often prevented from bonding and breastfeeding in the hospital, sometimes illegally

9 states have prison nursery programs and many mothers are unjustly refused entry

Incarcerated pregnant women are:

easily denied their legal right to abortion because of poor services and denials of care

often denied adequate food, support and health care

watched by officers during all medical appointments

refused family support during childbirth

“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.”
From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)
“I remember going to bed hungry many, many nights. Those pregnancy snacks don’t do much for a pregnant woman....”
From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)
“The [officer] always took so long the nurses would end up feeding her formula because I was never there in time to breastfeed her.”
From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)
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Anti-Shackling Laws

Many additional state and local corrections departments have policies that limit shackling during pregnancy and/or childbirth in some way.

Federal law largely prohibits federal prisons from shackling women during pregnancy and postpartum, but permits officers to use front handcuffs, including during labor and childbirth, if the woman is deemed a threat or flight risk.

“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.”
From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)
“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.” – Maria
From Reproductive Injustice: Shackling During Pregnancy, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, December 8, 2015
“I had to breastfeed my baby while shackled.... I had to sit in a wheelchair for hours at a time shackled in pain.”
From Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons (Correctional Association of NY, 2015)
“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…” – Maria
From Reproductive Injustice: Shackling During Pregnancy, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, December 8, 2015
“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. 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.” – Bridgette
From Reproductive Injustice: Shackling During Pregnancy, YouTube, uploaded by VideoCANY, December 8, 2015
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Shackling pregnant women is:

Shackling can take different forms

all are harmful for pregnant women

Women can be shackled for many hours or even days at a time

  Anti-shackling laws and policies are routinely violated and many women continue to be subjected to this brutal practice.  

To view data sources and download the print version of this infographic click here.

Download the full infographic

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