Legislator will bring back bill addressing shackling of pregnant women

By | 10.06.11 | 4:22 pm

State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, says she is getting ready to re-introduce legislation that would create humane rules for the shackling of pregnant women who are incarcerated.

Last session, the bill almost made it to a final vote, but it eventually died in early May. Reed tells The Florida Independent she is not sure why House Speaker Dean Cannon did not move the bill forward, but says she is ready to try again.

In 2010, the state of Florida received an “F” for its shackling policies in a report compiled by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights. The report (.pdf), “Mothers Behind Bars: A state-by-state report card and analysis of federal policies on conditions of confinement for pregnant and parenting women and the effect on their children,” analyzes whether a state’s policies harm pregnant women who are incarcerated. It was also “intended to help advocates assess their own state’s policies affecting these significant phases of pregnancy, labor and delivery, and parenting.”

The report gave a failing grade to any state that failed to “comprehensively limit, or limit at all, the use of restraints on pregnant women during transportation, labor and delivery and postpartum recuperation.” Thirty-six states, including Florida, received failing grades.

According to the report, of the states that received failing grades:

  • Twenty-two states either have no policy at all addressing when restraints can be used on pregnant women or have a policy which allows for the use of dangerous leg irons or waist chains.
  • When a pregnant woman is placed in restraints for security reasons, eleven states either allow any officer to make the determination or do not have a policy on who determines whether the woman is a security risk.
  • Thirty-one states do not require input from medical staff when determining whether restraints will be used.
  • Twenty-four states do not require training for individuals handling and transporting incarcerated persons needing medical care or those dealing with pregnant women specifically, or have no policy on training.
  • Thirty-one states do not have a policy that holds institutions accountable for shackling pregnant women without adequate justification.
  • Thirty-four states do not require each incident of the use of restraints to be reported or reviewed by an independent body.

With help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Reed and state Sen. Anthony Hill, D-Jacksonville, introduced House Bill 779 this past session. The bill would have put policy in place specifically regarding the restraint of incarcerated pregnant women in Florida.

According to a summary, the bill:

Prohibits use of restraints on prisoner known to be pregnant during labor, delivery, & postpartum recovery unless corrections official makes individualized determination that prisoner presents extraordinary circumstance requiring restraints; provides that doctor, nurse, or other health care professional treating prisoner may request that restraints not be used, in which case corrections officer or other official accompanying prisoner shall remove all restraints; requires that any restraint applied must be done in least restrictive manner; requires corrections official to make written findings within 10 days as to extraordinary circumstance; provides that use of restraints at any time after it is known that prisoner is pregnant must be by least restrictive manner necessary; requires findings be kept on file; authorizes woman restrained in violation of act to file grievance within specified period; provides that these remedies do not prevent complaint under any other law; requires facilities to inform female prisoners of rules; requires reports.

Reed says she was disappointed the bill did not make it to a final vote, and was surprised it did not get more momentum from Cannon, considering the priority state legislators gave a slew of anti-abortion bills that session.

“I thought that was the perfect time,” she says. “They said they were going to protect babies, and I was hoping they would protect women, too. I don’t understand why they did not push this to pass.”

Reed says another obstacle was the the Department of Corrections’ reaction to the bill.

A response (.pdf) from the department posted on the website of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, claims that the Rebecca Report was “misleading.”

According to the agency’s statement:

The Florida Department of Corrections does not shackle or otherwise restrain female inmates in any stage of labor. As per the accompanying procedures pregnant inmates are restrained in wrist restraints in front of their body during transport outside the facility for medical appointments and closely escorted by a corrections officer utilizing a ‘custodial touch’ to insure that the officer can provide assistance should the inmate stumble or otherwise become unstable so as to assist her in preventing a fall. A pregnant woman, who is being transported, may be restrained in this manner, depending upon her custody level and behavior. If the inmate is already in labor during transport, she will not be restrained. In the hospital after delivery is complete, inmates are tethered to their beds by one ankle. This is the department’s standard restraint practice for inmates in outside hospitals to provide security for the hospital and to prevent escapes. Additionally, there is a correctional officer in the room with them at all times, to be sure they have access to the bathroom or any other needs they may have.

Reed, along with civil liberties and reproductive rights advocates, believe each state should have specific policy in place that would deter bad practices.

“I know the Department of Corrections wasn’t happy,” Reed says, “but I am going to keep on filing [the bill].”

Reed says she “in no way supports the criminal behavior of the women.” However, she does believe that they should receive humane treatment.

“We are not telling [the Department of Corrections] how to do their job,” she says. “This is a human issue.”

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