One day last November, the first shudders of childbirth woke Venita Pinckney before dawn. She was well into her ninth month of pregnancy. She was also incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a state prison.
Before she left for the hospital, Ms. Pinckney said, a corrections officer wrapped a chain twice around her waist and handcuffed her to it. Then he covered the handcuffs with a locked black box to further limit her range of motion. Finally, her ankles were shackled.
“You can’t walk like a normal human being,” said Ms. Pinckney, 37. “When you’re pregnant, you have a hard time keeping your balance to begin with.”
At least once a week, somewhere in one of New York’s prisons or jails, a pregnant women goes into labor. Nearly all of them, including Ms. Pinckney, are behind bars for drug offenses. Even so, they are often as severely restrained in the final hours of pregnancy as the most nimble and dangerous of criminals. While their bodies heave toward childbirth, they become walking, clanking jail cells.
“I told the officer he’s not supposed to shackle me,” Ms. Pinckney said last week. “He said he was just following procedure.”From just about every wing of state government, there is agreement that such restraints are needless and risky. The state department of corrections formally limited their use nine years ago.