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Belly Chains and Ankle Restraints – for Pregnant Inmates?

PHOTO: Virginia is considering new regulations limiting the use of restraints, like handcuffs, on pregnant inmates.
PHOTO: Virginia is considering new regulations limiting the use of restraints, like handcuffs, on pregnant inmates.
July 31, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. - It isn't unusual for inmates to be restrained, but should it happen if they're pregnant or in labor?

The Virginia Board of Corrections, under pressure from prisoners' advocates, has OK'd new rules limiting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. However, the final approval process requires a public comment period that begins this week.

Holly Coy, director of programs for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said the restraints pose a health risk and rob women of their dignity during pregnancy.

"The vast majority of female prisoners are nonviolent offenders who pose a really low security risk, particularly during labor and postpartum recovery," Coy said. "And so, this is a common-sense, compassionate policy."

Coy said advocacy groups have documented many incidents in recent years, especially at local and regional jails.

"There are a number of stories of women who have been restrained while pregnant in facilities, with things like belly chains," she said. "There are also stories of women who have been restrained both at the wrist and at the ankles during childbirth."

The proposed policy still allows for an inmate to be restrained after delivery, but only in a way that she would still be able to hold her baby.

Virginians can weigh in online on the state's regulatory town hall website, townhall.virginia.gov.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - VA