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NC Removes Shackles for Women in Prison, in Labor

The North Carolina prison system will no longer shackle pregnant women who go into labor behind bars. (Yada Liao/Flickr)
The North Carolina prison system will no longer shackle pregnant women who go into labor behind bars. (Yada Liao/Flickr)
March 28, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. - When a woman in prison in North Carolina goes into labor, she will no longer have to be shackled.

It's a policy shift that comes after advocacy groups voiced concerns about what they called an inhumane practice that endangers the safety of both mother and baby. While women's and civil-rights groups applauded the change, they said more changes are needed in terms of reproductive justice in the state prison system.

Omisade Burney-Scott, director of strategic partnerships and advocacy for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, pointed to some gray areas in the new state policy.

"Our concern is that people who are pregnant are still going to be shackled during their prenatal care, that they will be shackled at some points during labor," she said, "and we're not clear around who makes the determination around active labor."

She said the Department of Corrections has been receptive to their requests to re-examine the shackling policy. SisterSong, NARAL Pro-Choice NC, the ACLU of North Carolina, Action NC and other groups are asking lawmakers to introduce legislation to outline protections for women in prison. Eighteen states have similar laws.

The American Medical Association, ACLU and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose the shackling of any woman during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery, saying it is unnecessary as well as dangerous. Burney-Scott said the reasons extend beyond the woman's comfort.

"It creates difficulty in pain management," she said. "It also gets in the way if there is any kind of medical emergency during labor and delivery, if there needs to be an emergency cesarean. So, there's just a lot of reasons why this practice, in its entirety, should not be in place."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the vast majority of incarcerated women are nonviolent offenders who pose a low security risk. There have been no reported incidents or escape attempts in states that prohibit shackling during labor.

More information is online at aclu.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC