Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE PROBLEMS WITH SHACKLING

Shackling legislation Philadelphia NOW helped to develop slated for vote in Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 26

There are so many mothers with horror stories about being shackled while pregnant in prison.

One mother said that when she attempted to step up into the van that was transporting her to the hospital, she almost lost her balance. Being handcuffed, she couldn’t use her hands to regain her balance. And while she was finally able to regain her balance, she realized how helpless she was, while shackled, to protect her child.

That’s just one story and one of the many problems with the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners. Today, with women becoming the fastest growing segment of the prison population because of tougher sentencing laws, that’s major cause for concern.

Besides being cruel and inhumane, shackling also poses serious health risks to the mother and her unborn child. In fact, the practice of shackling has been condemned by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Shackling is purported to thwart escape attempts. However, the vast majority of women in prison are incarcerated for non-violent crimes and pregnant inmates are accompanied by security personnel when they are transported to the hospital. Furthermore, jurisdictions that have successfully banned the practice of shackling have not experienced any incidence of flight or security breach.

And while childbirth should be a time women recall as a blessed, joyous event, incarcerated women remember it as a time of debasement. And for many, it is an experience that not only scars them for life emotionally, but also physically.

“Sometimes when I’m putting my lotion on, I look at the scars on my legs, and I’m reminded of it every time,” Tina Torres told Philadelphia Weekly. “I could have never prepared myself for that. Even animals in captivity don’t have to give birth in chains.” (Read more of her story: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/Giving-Birth-in-PA-Prisons.html.)

Philadelphia NOW has been diligently involved in the effort to ban the practice of shackling in Pennsylvania. In 2008, it joined forces with the Working Group to Enhance Services for Incarcerated Women — a consortium of nearly 30 organizations, including The Pennsylvania Prison Society, Community Legal Services, Maternity Care Coalition/MOMobile, The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Women’s Law Project, and the ACLU, to name a few.

Together with the Working Group, we were able to successfully develop legislation to ban shackling during transport to the hospital, and while they are in labor, delivery, and recovery. Senate Bill 1074, also referred to as the Healthy Birth of Incarcerated Women Act, was introduced in 2009 by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), Minority Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And it is slated for a committee vote on Tuesday, January 26.

Over the past few years, six states — California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Vermont — have recognized the dangers associated with shackling and enacted state laws to ensure the safety of pregnant inmates and their newborns. Philadelphia NOW is working diligently to get Pennsylvania to join those ranks.

We are pleased to note that this issue is steadily gaining momentum. And lately, there has been much interest and media coverage on the issue. Just recently, the BBC aired a report on shackling in Pennsylvania (View the report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8442769.stm.)

We are hopeful that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote in favor of this bill, which will ensure the safety and well being of pregnant prisoners and their newborns.

You can help!

Contact members of the Judiciary Committee and urge them to support SB 1074, the Healthy Birth of Incarcerated Women Act. Following is a list of members, e-mail addresses and fax numbers.
Senator E-Mail Address Fax Number
Senator Stewart Greenleaf, Chair, sgreenleaf@pasen.gov, 717.783.7328
Senator Mary Jo White, Vice Chair, mwhite@pasen.gov, 717.772.3459
Senator Daylin Leach, Minority Chair, leach@pasenate.com, 717.705.7741
Senator Joseph Scarnati, III, Ex-Officio, jscarnati@pasen.gov, 717.772.2755
Senator Lisa M. Boscola, boscola@pasenate.com, 717.783.1257
Senator Patrick M. Browne, pbrowne@pasen.gov, 717.772.3458
Senator Jay Costa, costa@pasenate.com, 717.783.5976
Senator Jane Earll, jearll@pasen.gov, 717.772.1588
Senator Wayne D. Fortuna, fontana@pasenate.com, 717.772.5484
Senator John R. Gordner, jgordner@pasen.gov, 717.787.9715
Senator Jane Clare Orie, jorie@pasen.gov, 717.787.8625
Senator Jeffrey E. Piccola, jpiccola@pasen.gov, 717.783.3722
Senator John C. Rafferty, Jr., jrafferty@pasen.gov, 717.783.4587
Senator Michael J. Stack, stack@pasenate.com, 717.772.2162

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