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“I delivered my only child, Hannah, eight years ago in Laurel, Md., shackled to a bed, chained like an animal, in a vulnerable position, exposed to all, without family, only prison guards by my side,” Rebecca Swope told the House Judiciary Committee in Maryland in February 2013.

Swope is part of a coalition organizing to raise awareness and persuade the Legislature to put a stop to the practice of shackling pregnant women. The coalition includes Swope’s organization CURE-Women Incarcerated, Baltimore-based Power Inside, and the ACLU of Maryland.

The 2013 bill didn’t pass, so Delegate Mary Washington and co-sponsors Ariana Kelly and Barbara Robinson have introduced House Bill 27 for 2014.

The “Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act”:

  • applies to state prisons, local jails, and juvenile detention facilities
  • prohibits shackling during labor and delivery, without exception
  • prohibits shackling throughout pregnancy and postpartum recovery unless corrections authorities make an individual determination that a woman presents a security risk
  • bans the use of waist chains and leg restraints
  • requires officers to remove restraints if the medical professional treating a woman requests it
  • emphasizes the role of medical professionals to determine when a woman can be released from the hospital and taken back to prison or jail

In order to monitor whether the legislation is working, the bill further requires that corrections agencies document in writing the reasons for restraining women under the allowed exceptions and report those reasons to the governor and the legislature.

“[We] really don’t want this happening to anyone, ever, because of the enduring trauma,” Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside explains.

Show your Support

You can endorse the Maryland statement of opposition to shackling here, and follow the campaign here and here.

Build Momentum

Momentum is on the side of pregnant women’s rights: 18 states now have laws that limit the use of restraints on pregnant women; 15 passed within the last few years. Bills are under consideration in Massachusetts and D.C. as well as Maryland, and the new year may bring additional legislation in other states.

As a federal appeals court recently explained, the “universal consensus from the courts” is that the “shackling of pregnant detainees while in labor offends contemporary standards of human decency such that the practice violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain’—i.e., it poses a substantial risk of serious harm.”

Women shouldn’t have to sue a prison or jail after being subjected to shackling – legislatures should enact laws that communicate clear standards to protect women’s rights and health in the first place.


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