It's a practice so hidden, many don't realize it exists: the shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth.
Across the U.S., there are stories of women going from jails or prisons to hospitals, where they labor and sometimes even deliver while restrained with handcuffs, leg shackles or both.
In recent years, a growing number of states have moved to ban the practice. Ten states now have anti-shackling legislation: California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia — and as of two weeks ago, Pennsylvania.
There have also been lawsuits in a number of states. On Thursday, a jury in rural Arkansas found that a guard had violated the constitutional rights of a woman by shackling her while she was in labor, though they awarded her just $1. In May, a shackling case was settled in Washington state for $125,000. And in Illinois, there's a class action lawsuit against Cook County and its sheriff, Tom Dart.
Legs Chained, Handcuffed To The Bed
Chicago attorneys Tom Morrissey and Ken Flaxman believe there could be as many as 100 to 150 women included in the class action suit, with cases dating back to late 2006. They're seeking an end to the shackling of inmates during childbirth, and compensation for their clients, including Jennifer Farrar, 25.
In November 2008, Farrar was arrested for cashing fake payroll checks. She was charged with forgery, and booked into the Cook County Jail, a sprawling complex on the southwest side of Chicago, and one of the largest jails in the country. She was almost seven months pregnant at the time.
One day the following January, Farrar went to court for a hearing, and there the pains began. An ambulance was called. Farrar says officers cuffed her hands and chained her legs together. Another chain was placed around her belly, connecting her hands to her feet. When she got to the hospital, she says, the belly chain was removed, but her legs were still chained, and one hand was cuffed to the bed.
"The doctor and the nurse," Farrar says, "they were telling the officer, is this necessary, you know? Where is she going to go? She's in labor you know."
She says she remained that way for eight or nine hours, until it came time to push. At that point, the correctional officer unlocked the leg restraints, but left one arm cuffed to the bed. An hour later, Jennifer Farrar delivered her baby girl.
"Here I am, a mother giving birth," Farrar says. "It should be a happy time in my life. I know that I did something wrong, and you have to take the responsibility for what you do. But it wasn't like I was a murderer."
"Tantamount To Torture"
Another plaintiff, Cora Fletcher, was 17 years old in 2006 when she was charged with retail theft. A year later, she missed a court date, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. A year after that, officers showed up at her house, and took her in when she was eight months pregnant. (Click the title to read more)
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, July 17, 2010