PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania sent Attorney General Kathleen Kane a letter today asking her to take steps to eliminate the use of illegal restraints on pregnant inmates in violation of the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act. A recent investigation by the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project (Duvall Project) found that despite passage of this law in 2010, many facilities in the state continue to illegally restrain women and are not following the act’s reporting requirements on the use of restraints for pregnant women.
The Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act prohibits the use of handcuffs, leg shackles, and other physical restraints on pregnant incarcerated women in the second and third trimesters during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and the postpartum period, including during transport to and from the hospital, until after delivery. The law provides an exception for pregnant women who pose a flight or security risk. Jails are required to report their use of restraints on pregnant women in a monthly report filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
But during meetings with the Duvall Project staff at 26 hospitals in 2011-2013, hospital clinicians and staff members reported that restraints are routinely used on women in their second or third trimester and during transport, despite the low number of incidents reported to the DOC. In one particularly egregious example, an Allegheny County Jail inmate who was seven months pregnant tripped and fell face down at Magee Women’s Hospital due to her leg and waist restraints.
“The passage of the Healthy Birth Act was a tremendous victory for incarcerated women, but unfortunately, the practice in real life does not always reflect the law,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director. “Four years after the passage of the act, education about the law and its proper implementation remain challenges.”
In addition to the Duvall Project’s findings, a survey of providers in the Geisinger Health System, which operates more than 20 prenatal care clinics in Pennsylvania, showed that the vast majority of clinicians were unfamiliar with the law, and most did not know they could ask a correctional officer to remove restraints from any pregnant patient.
“Many pregnant women behind bars are isolated and fearful. By eliminating this barbaric and potentially dangerous practice, women regain some dignity,” said Carol Petraitis, director of the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Project.
The ACLU-PA’s letter specifically asks the Attorney General’s office to advise state and county wardens to add pregnancy status to their transportation checklists; to work with the Department of Corrections Training Academy to ensure that it addresses provisions of the Healthy Birth Act; and to review a U.S. Department of Justice report about the best practices around pregnancy and the use of restraints.
A copy of the letter and a survey with more details about the Duvall Project’s investigation can be found at: www.aclupa.org/Kaneletter