Should a Woman Be Shackled While Giving Birth? Most States Think So

In the state of Arizona, pregnant inmates are still cuffed to their beds and wheelchairs by "soft restraints," according to John J. MacIntyre, deputy chief of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "Soft restraints" signify the use of handcuffs and ankle cuffs with pregnant women, rather than leg irons or waist chains.

All pregnant inmates, regardless of the severity of their offenses, are handcuffed to wheelchairs on their way to the hospital, and are restrained to hospital beds with an ankle bracelet and a "long chain," before and after they give birth, MacIntyre said. He says that Chacon's allegations that she was chained during her birth were untrue. The deputy chief insisted that these precautions are taken because inmates give birth in hospitals that are open to the public and not fortified against escapees in the same way jails and prisons are. He also noted that some inmates do indeed pose risk for escape, and still others, as individuals behind bars, may be violent or dangerous.

But many advocates, including doctors and nurses, say that shackling women at any stage of their pregnancy is damaging to the health of the mothers and the health of their babies. The American Medical Association deemed the practice to be unsafe, "medically hazardous," and "barbaric," in a resolution from 2010.

Malika Saar, an advocate who heads an anti-shackling coalition with The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, believes state law should also take into account the circumstances under which pregnant inmates were put behind bars.

Federal prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) do not shackle pregnant inmates during the birthing process. However, if a woman goes into labor while placed on a so-called immigration "detainer," a period in which ICE asks local authorities to hold inmates for possible deportation, she will be subject to shackling policies of the local authorities, which vary state-by-state. For those jailed for immigration offenses, the treatment seems particularly extreme, Saar said.

"These mothers are not prosecuted criminals, but simply mothers detained for lack of documentation," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Last year, comedian and immigration reform advocate Stephen Colbert drew attention to the practice of restraining undocumented pregnant women in a segment he called "Labor Chains." Colbert joked that if Americans are to resolve the immigration problem, they must look inside themselves and "scoop out any vestige of human kindness -- especially when it comes to pregnant women."

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