Rachel Roth is a writer, consultant, and advocate for reproductive justice, rights, and health. Much of her work focuses on the impact of imprisonment on women’s lives and the need for new drug policies and criminal justice policies. She lives in the Boston area and is the author of the book Making Women Pay: The Hidden Costs of Fetal Rights.
Rachel Roth is a writer, consultant, and advocate for reproductive justice, rights, and health.
Blog Post List
May 12, 2014
Today the Massachusetts Legislature sent Governor Deval Patrick an important and long-awaited bill to guarantee minimum standards for pregnant women in jail and prison, including strict limits on shackling. Governor Patrick has ten days to sign the bill into law. He has already said he wants to sign it . Wins The bill bans the use of any restraints on women during labor and childbirth, period. No exceptions. The bill bans the use of waist chains and leg irons on women who are pregnant or who have given birth, period. No exceptions. This is one of the most far-reaching protections in any state...
May 8, 2014
Minnesota will soon join the other 19 states that have adopted laws to limit the shackling of pregnant women in prison.
April 25, 2014
Maryland is now the 19th state with a law against shackling pregnant women.
April 7, 2014
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...
March 26, 2014
Today, the Massachusetts Legislature sent a resounding message: stop shackling pregnant women. The Massachusetts House voted 146-0 to ban the shackling of women giving birth and establish other minimum standards for pregnant women in jail and prison. The vote came just one week after the Senate's unanimous endorsement of a similar bill. Both votes are historic. Finally given the chance to vote on a bill that has languished in committee for years, every single member of the Legislature stood up for basic standards of decency. The Massachusetts legislation is significant for its dual focus on...
March 20, 2014
This afternoon, the Massachusetts State Senate voted 39-0 in favor of a bill to establish minimum standards for the treatment of pregnant women in prison and jail, including access to medical care and limits on shackling. (The bill is now known as S.2063 .) After years of being bottled up in committee, the Senate vote is a resounding endorsement of this long-overdue legislation. As Senator Linda Dorcena Forry said on the floor, “This bill will change lives.” The measure now goes to the House for consideration. Read up on the bill in my previous post: Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval...
March 17, 2014
For the first time, policymakers in Minnesota have introduced legislation to improve pregnancy care for imprisoned women, including limits on shackling. Broad in reach, the bill applies to all prisons and jails, for youth as well as adults. While the bill is innovative for its dual focus on health care and shackling, it can be enhanced to better reflect community standards of care. Ensuring access to health care? The bill features many specific mandates and notable omissions. For example, although the bill requires educational materials about pregnancy and has three different provisions on...
March 7, 2014
One of every three women held prisoner worldwide is in the United States, even though the U.S. has only five percent of the world’s population. This lopsided figure reflects the U.S. tendency to imprison more people, for more time, than peer nations. Add in racial bias and restrictive bail practices , and low-income women of color are disproportionately likely to spend time behind prison walls. As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we can draw on global human rights concepts to improve conditions for imprisoned women. Right now, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a bill, S...
February 20, 2014
Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced plans to issue emergency regulations to put a stop to the shackling of pregnant women in labor. “Regulation is good but here law would be better,” the governor said . Pledging his support, Governor Patrick added, “I urge the Legislature to send [a bill] to my desk for signature this session.” That bill, S. 2012, just reported out of the Public Safety Committee, provides broader protection than the emergency regulations. The bill has two aims: to set standards on medical care for pregnant women in jail and prison and to set clear limits on...
February 19, 2014
For the first time ever, a bill to improve conditions for pregnant women in jail and prison, including strict limits on shackling, has been voted out of committee in the Massachusetts Legislature. For a decade, the bill was introduced by a member of the House and assigned to the Judiciary Committee, from which it never emerged. This session, the bill was also introduced by a member of the Senate and assigned to the Public Safety Committee, which held a hearing in December and voted the bill out of committee on Friday, Feb. 14. Karen Spilka, sponsor of the senate measure, said, “This bill is...
February 14, 2014
Last week, I wrote about developments in Congress and several states to stop the practice of shackling pregnant women. Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee in one of those states, Iowa, has changed a bill setting limits on shackling to one that charges the Department of Corrections with making rules on shackling. A wide range of groups supports the original bill, including medical associations and traditional adversaries such as the ACLU and the Iowa Right to Life Committee. But law enforcement and corrections agencies have lined up against it. State prison officials say that they have already...
February 6, 2014
As Congress and state legislatures got back to work in the new year, issues of incarcerating and shackling pregnant women surfaced on many of their agendas. Progress on Shackling Women in the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) may soon get relief from shackling. In January, the bipartisan team of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) got language into the federal budget bill to "ensure all detention contracts and agreements" adhere to ICE policy against shackling pregnant women: A pregnant woman or woman in post-delivery recuperation shall not...
January 8, 2014
“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...
December 13, 2013
“The jail I volunteer in told me they don’t shackle, but I have stood between a corrections officer and a woman in labor” to prevent her from being restrained – this is what Marianne Bullock, childbirth educator, doula, and co-founder of the Prison Birth Project , told legislators in Massachusetts today. For the past few years, I have been chronicling campaigns around the country to stop the practice of shackling pregnant women. Now I’m excited to report on a hearing I participated in right in my own state. Today’s hearing in the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security included...
November 21, 2013
On National Rural Health Day, I find myself thinking about an invisible diaspora – the diaspora of people from cities to prisons in rural America. People who live in rural communities wind up in rural jails when they get arrested. But thousands upon thousands of people are also sent to serve their time far from home in state and federal prisons that dot the rural landscape. Since 1980, the majority of new prisons have been built in rural areas, and the majority of people in prison are now confined in rural prisons . Many factors account for this trend – from “not in my backyard” politics in...
October 18, 2013
Earlier this year, I had the privilege to participate in the "Rethinking Prisons" conference at Vanderbilt University. Being on that campus, I was inspired to tell the audience about the brave Nashville resident who stood up for her dignity and sued the county sheriff for shackling her during labor – even though taking such a public stance carried risks because of her immigration status. Yesterday, Juana Villegas reached a final settlement with the Nashville and Davidson County government, which will pay almost half a million dollars to Villegas and her legal team. In a surprise move, the...
September 24, 2013
Advocates for the humane treatment of women are taking their fight onto the world stage, asking the United Nations to hold our government accountable for ensuring human rights here at home by ending the shackling of pregnant women. And in the nation's power center, the D.C. Council is considering legislation to do just that. Human Rights Obligations In 1992, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, known as the ICCPR. By doing so, the U.S. government pledged to abide by the treaty’s standards and principles. The U.N. Human Rights Committee monitors...
August 14, 2013
As North Carolina becomes the first state to agree to provide financial compensation to people who suffered under government-run sterilization programs, the California Legislature is finally grappling with reports of modern-day sterilization abuse in its prison system. Confronting Eugenics in the Tar Heel State Governor Pat McCrory signed the budget crafted by the North Carolina Legislature, which inlcudes $10 million for people who were sterilized under an aggressive state campaign to extinguish the fertility of people whom social workers, doctors, and government officials deemed unfit to...
July 30, 2013
This is a quick post to celebrate the inspiring work being done by twelve advocates for families affected by incarceration. In June, the White House honored these individuals as “champions of change,” bringing attention to an oft-overlooked group – children with incarcerated parents and their loved ones. These twelve people work directly with incarcerated parents and with their children and caregivers; educate us through journalism and collaboration with Sesame Street ; and advocate for policy changes to stem the tide of incarceration while improving the well-being of those now affected by it...
February 25, 2013
“It’s ironic that it’s both shocking and incredibly commonplace,” Jacqueline Robarge says about the shackling of women in labor. Robarge’s group, Power Inside , works with women affected by incarceration, street life, and abuse in Baltimore and is organizing to put a stop to what the American Medical Association has denounced as a barbaric practice. This bill would make Maryland the 19th state to pass a law against shackling pregnant women. About six women in state custody give birth every month in Maryland. No one knows how many women in local jails or juvenile facilities do. Even without...