The Correctional Association of New York, which serves as an advocacy organization, found that a large percentage of New York’s pregnant female prisoner population gave birth or received post-partum treatment while they were in shackles. New York State banned the use of restraints while giving birth in prison in 2009.
The Correctional Association of New York interviewed over 950 women who are currently in prison, including 27 who gave birth after the law went into effect. The practice of having women cuffed while they give birth in prison represents a larger issue of women not fully attaining or exercising their reproductive rights while in jail.
In their report, The Guardian says a woman named Maria Caraballo who gave birth while in prison was told she needed to remain handcuffed or she would be written up by the prison guards. If she were to be written up, Caraballo would receive a disciplinary ticket that would forgo her opportunity to live with her baby for 12 to 18 months. It would also cancel her opportunity to be released early from prison. Caraballo told The Guardian:
At the hospital, after changing into a hospital gown, the accompanying officers cuffed her right hand to the hospital bed. “The doctor told the officers to take the cuff off, but they refused,” she recalled. “The line to the cuff is short, so you can’t move your arm without the cuff twisting or cutting into you. I couldn’t even sit up.” Despite the doctor’s repeated requests, her hand remained cuffed to the bed the entire time. She gave birth, delivered the placenta and even held her daughter for the first time while handcuffed. Even when hospital staff stitched her up, she remained handcuffed. “I was only unshackled after being taken to the prison ward,” she recalled.
Another woman, Tina Tinen told The Guardian, she was dismissed by prison nurses when she told them she went into labor; they told her she wouldn’t know if she were in labor because she was pregnant with her first child. Other women have complained that nurses have dismissed their symptoms or conducted “superficial exams” while they were in labor.
Both Maria and Tina have completed their prison sentences and now work with the Correctional Association. The organization has launched a Campaign to End Reproductive Injustice in order for the standard of reproductive health to be raised for women in jail. Both women claim that even though they and other imprisoned women have made mistakes, they should not be humiliated, especially when they give birth.
To read more about these women and their fight for reproductive rights while incarcerated, finish reading the segment at The Guardian.