It's Still Legal to Shackle Women During Childbirth in America

PHOTO: Pregnant

A new bipartisan amendment to comprehensive immigration reform would place a federal ban on the practice of shackling pregnant women who are in immigration detention to their hospital beds during childbirth. Amazingly, the practice of "shackling" is still legal in at least 32 states in the country.

The amendment, introduced last week by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would "ensure all pregnant women detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not be subjected to restraints, except in extraordinary circumstances."

Mothers Miriam Mendiola-Martinez and Alma Minerva Chacon were both victims of the "shackling" policy in Maricopa County, Arizona, in recent years. Both women were in custody on immigration-related charges late in their pregnancies. As inmates, they were both shackled to their hospital beds as they went into labor.

Both women say they were bound to their hospital beds before and after they gave birth, without their husbands and in the presence of a prison guard. Chacon says she was restrained even as she gave birth.

"They handcuffed both my hands and both my feet to the hospital bed, as I gave birth," Chacon told Telemundo in Spanish in 2010. "I gave birth, and the nurse took my baby. I asked if I could hold her, and the guard said 'No.'"

Chacon says she was not allowed to hold her baby until 70 days later, when she was released from custody.

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons instituted an anti-shackling policy in US-run facilities in 2007, state correctional facilities are still free to shackle expecting mothers before, during and after delivery if they see fit. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn't approve of the practice either, but women like Chacon remain susceptible to such treatment during a 72-hour so-called "detainer," in which they are technically held by local enforcement so that ICE can investigate their immigration status further.

The American Medical Association has deemed the practice to be unsafe, "medically hazardous" and "barbaric". Still, many local law enforcement agencies continue the practice in some form or another.

In Illinois, a state that now has anti-shackling laws on the books, 80 female inmates sued for previously being subjected to shackling, and won a $4.1 million settlement in a class action suit.

And although Arizona passed a ban on most forms of shackling in March of 2012, John MacIntyre, the deputy chief of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office told ABC late last year that pregnant inmates are still cuffed to their beds and wheelchairs with chains, handcuffs and anklecuffs - which he called "soft restraints" - before and after they give birth. He says this is to ensure they don't escape or pose risks to those around them.

"Shackling a pregnant detainee is an unnecessary and outdated law enforcement practice that is strongly opposed by the medical and criminal justice communities," said Crapo. "The United States is a nation of laws, but also a nation of compassion."

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