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Ob-gyns have legal authority to order shackles removed

Georgia ValentineGeorgia Valentine, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

The use of shackles, particularly leg irons, waist chains, and handcuffs behind the back, can cause irreversible harm to imprisoned pregnant women. Since 2006, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) has worked to stop the use of dangerous forms of restraint, culminating in the passage of anti-shackling legislation in 2012.

Ob-gyns in California need to know that the new law also grants medical professionals the authority to direct the removal of restraints from pregnant prisoners at any time. 

Pressing for implementation of this legislation, LSPC completed No More Shackles, a report outlining its findings after months of research on written policies for shackling of pregnant prisoners in California counties. On February 18, LSPC held a press conference to release the report with Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego); Yen Truong, MD; and Jesse Stout, LSPC policy director.

The report verifies that a little over a third of counties (21 out of 58) are currently in compliance with the law. However, 15 counties do not have written policies explicitly granting medical professionals the authority to have restraints removed.

LSPC strongly encourages the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Board of State and Community Corrections, and all California counties to:

  • Hold counties accountable for up-to-date policies with current legislation
  • Provide translated versions of all materials distributed to female prisoners, especially materials that outline pregnancy rights
  • Educate medical professionals on their critical role in ensuring that restraints are removed from pregnant prisoners
  • Ensure that pregnant juvenile prisoners are afforded the same rights and shackling restrictions as adult prisoners

Mr. Stout stated, “Female prisoners have gender-specific needs that custodial institutions do not always acknowledge. Maintaining the health and wellbeing of incarcerated pregnant women requires unique considerations. The LSPC study has demonstrated that people in many counties support the humane treatment of pregnant women. However, it also shows that our work to protect these women remains unfinished.”

Remember, if you see a pregnant woman restrained with leg irons, waist chains, or handcuffs behind the back, you have the legal authority to order these shackles removed. Questions can be forwarded to Mr. Stout at jesse@prisonerswithchildren.org.