The Florida Sheriffs Association has announced that during a recent meeting, a group of sheriffs voted to adopt a policy for the restraint of incarcerated pregnant women with language very similar to a bill now making its way through the Legislature.

A spokesperson for the Florida Sheriffs Association, Sarrah Carroll, says the new rules are not very different from what jails across the state have already been doing, but the organization decided to make it part of its operating standards anyway.

There is currently a bill before the Legislature that would create humane rules for the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women. Not all correctional facilities, which including detention centers, have uniform rules for how to treat pregnant inmates. Until last week, jails in Florida did not have a uniform standard.

Lydia Hightower, also with the association, says that the sheriffs adopted the new rules “in reference” to the bill last week. She says they “wanted to be ahead of it.”

As the bill has made its way through the Legislature, both the Florida Sheriffs Association and the state Department of Corrections had spoken out against the legislation, claiming it was unnecessary.

The new policy was voted in during a meeting held a few days ago (.pdf) by Sheriff Ed Dean, Marion County; Peter Corwin, Broward County; Sam Johnson, Polk County; Sheriff John Rutherford, Duval County; and Sheriff Robert Peryam, Monroe County. The new rules state that “restraints may not be used on a inmate who is known to be pregnant during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery, unless the corrections official makes an individualized determination that the inmate presents an extraordinary circumstance.”

The language, now included in the jail standards, is nearly identical to the language in the bill the group once said was not needed. The new rules do not, however, include the same reporting requirements included in the bill sponsored by state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa.

Carroll says the sheriffs “went ahead and updated the policy” to create a “ baseline standard for all jails.” She says “jails do take this seriously” and the sheriffs are “doing what [they] can to protect people.”

Carroll explains that the association had polled officials in jails across the state to see what their policies were and to make sure there would not be a “huge fiscal impact.” She says jails were already following these policies, therefore do not face any problems in implementing the new standards.

Despite this addition to the jail standards, a lobbyist for the association, Frank Messersmith, says he remains concerned with the reporting requirements in the bill being considered by the state House. He says his opposition to the reporting requirements has more to do with “litigation” concerns than issues with the “substantive policy.”

The shackling bill has already passed in the state Senate.

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