Shackling inmates in labor has been an issue for some time in corrections and is getting press due to coverage in New York. Last week they became the sixth state to ban the use of shackles during labor except is special situations. The ACLU and other prison watch groups have been actively pursuing a change in this corrections practice. It is one of many ethical dilemmas correctional nurses become involved with. Unlike in hospitals, healthcare is secondary to security and safety in the running of the correctional facility. The Department of Corrections and custody officers can have a very different perspective on any given situation from the healthcare providers. A ‘Command and Control’ attitude can be quite challenging to deal with.
Shackles are for Outside the Walls
Some clarification is necessary to the uninitiated. The news articles make it appear that the women are INSIDE the prison giving birth and being shackled. Unless referring to the few prison hospitals around the country, what is really happening is that the women have been transported to the hospital to give birth. They are therefore outside the security perimeter of the prison and there are standard precautions in place to decrease the chance of escape and to reduce the need for a large number of officers to attend them. Those standard precautions include handcuffs and shackles.
Standard Security Procedure
Now those of us who have given birth know that it is highly unlikely that a women in true labor is going to have the wherewithal to evade an officer in the L&D Unit and escape into the community. However, inmates have been known to be very creative in their escape plans. No corrections officer wants to be the one on duty when an escape takes place. Therefore,the custody officer is going to use standard procedures (IE shackles) unless special directives are issued – thus the need for specific policy to be in place regarding the laboring inmate in the community.
Advocating for Change
I’m not really an advocate for legislation for everything so the idea of getting legislation about this in all 50 states seems a bit much to me. However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and 5 other states so far have specific policy or legislation allowing the laboring inmate to be free of shackles. The visibility of the New York situation may speed the adoption throughout the country – that is a good thing. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights has also taken up the call and been instrumental in facilitating the New York State legislation. A listing of specific state by state information was recently posted by the Crime Reporter.