Friday, February 10, 2012

Pregnant shackling bill tabled in House

We talk about rights: women's rights, felon's rights, civil rights, human rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But when I look at how Virginia government operates, I see the rights of the powerless are not only infringed upon, too often, they are trounced upon.  Such is the case with pregnant women who are shackled in jail, even during labor and delivery.

The argument that pregnant women, especially those delivering, are serious threats to public safety is bogus.  There seems to be little or no evidence from states that have banned shackling that this assertion is true.  The most obvious question that refutes Richmond's theory, then, is, when was the last time a woman in labor escaped from prison?  And if that did happen, what were correctional officers doing at the time?  Correctional officers are able to safely restrain larger, stronger men, without the use of shackles.  Why, then, would shackles be necessary for women who are in a notably weaker condition?

There are alternatives to shackling during labor and delivery, such as mild sedation and epidurals, which will not hurt the baby or the mother.  In some cases, a c-section is not out of the question, either.  These substitute procedures would require competent doctors, health professionals and properly trained officers. Without a doubt, there are other safe methods to protect law enforcement personnel, methods which could easily be learned from successful, modern agencies.  However, I am quite sure Virginia's state and private prisons do not want to or cannot fund these initiatives.

It is possible that the Virginia Board of Corrections will do the right thing and mandate alternatives to shackling pregnant women, particularly during labor and delivery--the key word here being "right."  

Pregnant shackling bill tabled in House
The Associated Press

RICHMOND — Legislation to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Virginia was rejected Thursday by a House of Delegates subcommittee, which chose to let state prison officials address the is­sue through regulations that are now being developed.

With one dissenting vote, the five-member subcommittee tabled Del. Patrick Hope’s bill after hearing from proponents who decried the shackling of pregnant prisoners as bar­baric and opponents who said public safety is law enforcement’s top priority.

Hope, D-Arlington County, said afterward that he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the subcommittee’s action. He vowed to introduce the legislation again next year if the regulations being developed by the Board of Corrections appear too weak to sufficiently protect the health and safety of pregnant inmates and their unborn babies.
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