BOSTON — Giving birth can be a trying experience all by itself. Imagine going through labor in hand-cuffs or leg restraints. The Patrick administration is taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen in any jails or prisons in this state.
Massachusetts is moving closer to joining 18 states that prohibit putting restraints on prisoners while they’re in labor. That’s thanks to a regulation that Governor Deval Patrick announced yesterday.
“Regulation is good, but here, law is better. The legislature is considering a bill that would make this ban law. I want to be clear that I support this bill and I urge the legislature to send it to my desk for signature this session,” Patrick said.
State undersecretary of criminal justice Sandra McCroom says the practice was already prohibited at state-run prisons, but the new rule also applies to county houses of corrections operated by sheriffs.
“Sheriffs are all independent elected officials, and their policies aren’t regulated by us in any way. So now the Governor has insisted that the Department of Corrections create immediate regulations that resolve that issue,” she said.
The executive director of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association says he knows of no sheriffs who permit women to be shackled during labor, but activists, including the group NARAL Pro-Choice, say they’ve heard otherwise. Megan Amundson, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice, says, “We’re hearing from facilities across the state that the practice is still happening. We are hearing from doctors and from women that they are being shackled during labor.”
“They Would Not Remove The Cuffs”
“When I was in active labor the jail medical staff had denied that I was in the late stages of labor that I was,” said Kenzie, a woman who asked that WBUR only use her first name because she doesn’t want any more problems with the criminal justice system.
Kenzie says she was restrained by correctional officers from the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional facility.
“This being my sixth child, I kept telling them that it was time. They just kept denying me, saying I wasn’t really that far into labor because I was not hysterically screaming. It wasn’t until I had said that I had the urge to push that they decided to take me seriously,” she said.
“On the car ride there, I asked if they could remove my cuffs because I needed to be able to hang on, and, not only, so I didn’t fly around the hard plastic seats but also just to brace myself and be able to not push, and they would not remove the cuffs.”
And she says the restraints stayed on once she got to the hospital, driven there by two correctional officers — one male and one female. The female correctional officer stayed with her during delivery.
“I was in the emergency room, and it took a lot of convincing but the CO finally had taken the cuffs off of me so I could take my pants off and be able to get checked and get onto the bed safely,” she said.
But Kenzie says she was back in cuffs pretty quickly.
“We left the jail at 9:50 a.m. and my son was born at 10:01 a.m. and right immediately after delivery, they immediately shackled my leg to the bed,” she said. “You know, no woman should ever have to go through that. If you ever delivered and had a child you would understand.
We asked a representative of Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe for comment. Patricia Murphy, Assistant Superintendent of the Western Regional Correctional Center, says the facility has had a policy for some twenty years not to shackle during labor. She admits the restraints are allowed during transport from the correctional facility to a hospital. She says that even under the Governor’s new policy, restraints during transport are allowed.
Kenzie is out of jail now after serving 15 months of an 18-month sentence.
Before her release, her son was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s in remission now, but she says she spends a lot of time traveling with him from Western Massachusetts to Boston for medical treatment.
Editor’s note: This post was expanded on 2/25 with additional material, including the response from Patricia Murphy of the Western Regional Correctional Center.