N.Y. Prisons - No Shackling Laboring Moms


1156821_handcuffsRemember labor?  How you felt shackled to your hospital bed by that annoying monitor strapped to your belly and all those frustrating wires?  Oh yeah, and the I.V. too.

Now imagine all that plus real shackles on your wrists and ankles, a chain across your pregnant belly.  That’s how some moms in state prisons give birth, and it could be putting them and their babies at risk.  Governor Paterson is expected to put a ban on the practice in all New York state prisons this week.

We all know that flat-on-back is no longer the preferred way to have a baby.  But corrections officers worry that if they allow a laboring mom freedom, she’ll either cause trouble or escape. “They can coordinate on the outside to facilitate an escape,” New York  Department of Correctional Services spokesman Erik Kriss said in an interview with the Associated Press.  “We have to be vigilant about those kinds of things.” Kriss thinks a state law will put prison employees at risk, taking away their freedom to judge individual cases.

Federal prisons and prisons in five states — N.Y. will be the sixth — ban the practice, however, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the ACLU both condemn it.  “I’m saying to myself, ‘I feel like a pregnant animal,'” Venita Pickney, 37, told the Associated Press of her experience of giving birth while shackled.

It’s hard to imagine a mom with a dilating cervix who’s experiencing hard contractions trying to do anything but breathe through the pain, and — felon or not — it’s wrong, in my opinion and in this country of ours, to go against what is medically appropriate and cause undue psychological and physical pain to a woman in labor.

But at the same time, I don’t want to see prison employees put at risk.  While there probably are inmates who need extra security, it seems like there has got to be a better method that chaining them to their bed.  A locked hospital room?  Extra guards?

How do you feel about this issue — is it basic human rights?  Or does the collective safety of the guards come first?