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On Friday, April 4, the Maryland Senate voted unanimously to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women in prison and jail. The legislature must now reconcile the Senate version with the House version passed last month before the governor can sign the bill into law.

Among the differences to be ironed out are the breadth of protections afforded pregnant women from the risks of shackling, the scope of exceptions under which corrections personnel can legally restrain a pregnant woman or woman giving birth, and the type of reporting and oversight that will be required.

This is the second year that advocates including Power Inside, the ACLU, the NAACP, medical professionals, and law professors and students have organized to safeguard pregnant women’s health.

In a new video about the politics and trauma of shackling, Delegate Mary Washington recounts the resistance she has encountered to her proposed legislation. Because women have been accused or convicted of committing a crime, she explains, some people think that, “anything that happened to them [in prison] is their fault. And that anything could happen to them.”

But when it came time to stand up and be counted, most legislators rejected that line of thinking and voted in favor of legal protections for women in prison.

Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside told MomsRising, “This bill is an important first step in the defense of the human and civil rights of women in Maryland. I am hopeful that we now can give the women across the state who have survived shackling the assurances that what they endured will never happen to another pregnant woman.”

One of those women is Rebecca Swope, who testified in 2013 about her experience as a pregnant woman and new mother in prison custody:

I was shackled during transport, labor and delivery, throughout my entire hospital stay by wrist and foot to the side of the bed. Personally the hardest to physically endure for me was transport to the hospital in the ambulance. I was strapped at my breast, midsection, upper thighs and lower legs to the stretcher as well as hand cuffed to the stretcher by wrist and ankle.

I had to hold [my newborn baby] in my one arm but could not even rub her skin with my other hand unless I wanted to place her against the rail of the bed, against my handcuff.

I only have one child, and this is my birthing experience [and the] memories I relive on every one of my daughter’s birthdays.

Thanks in large part to the courage of women like Rebecca Swope, Maryland and Massachusetts are poised to become the 19th and 20th states to enact laws against shackling. (Massachusetts legislators are also working to craft a final bill from two versions passed by the House and Senate.)

Shackling in Tennessee

Women continue to fight back against shackling in the courts as well as in their state legislatures.

In March, Charity Flerl sued the Silverdale Correctional Facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the private company that runs it, the Corrections Corporation of America, for restraining her when she was in labor and giving birth.

“They shackled her at the jail, put her in an ambulance, shackled her the entire time. They had her feet shackled together, her hands, her waist,” her lawyer Chris Clem told the press.

“They did the exact same thing Nashville did,” Clem added, referring to the way that Nashville jail employees restrained a woman named Juana Villegas when she was in labor. Villegas sued jail authorities and won.

Tennessee has no law against restraining pregnant women.

How many advocacy campaigns, public testimonies, and lawsuits will it take to stop this practice once and for all?

Unanimous Senate Vote on Maryland Bill against Shackling

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