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Committee approves pregnant inmates bill

Arizona legislators say they’d like to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Arizona

Arizona legislators say they’d like to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Arizona

A Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday morning that would ban state or county jails and prisons from shackling inmates or detainees while they’re being transported for delivery or during labor, delivery or postpartum recovery. The bill makes exceptions if medical staffers ask that the prisoner be restrained or a jail or prison official decides the prisoner or detainee might take off.

The bill follows a lawsuit that was filed last year against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office by an inmate who says her rights were violated when she was shackled before and after her Caesarean section in 2009.

The Arizona Republic reported last December that the lawsuit claims Miriam Mendiola-Martinez was forced to leave the hospital with her hands and feet handcuffed. The lawsuit also claims Mendiola-Martinez was taken away without receiving pain medication. That was one impetus for the Senate bill, said Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, who sponsored the measure.

“To me, that was humiliating. She’s probably still in pain and that was unnecessary,” she said after the committee hearing on Wednesday.

Gray said the American Civil Liberties Union brought it to her attention.

The issue is something the organization has been tracking for a number of years, said Anjali Abraham, an ACLU lobbyist.

“We just want to ensure the safest delivery conditions for baby and mom. This is a population that often gets overlooked,” she said.

So far, 14 states have adopted similar restrictions, according to the ACLU. Bills to restrict shackling are being considered in Massachusetts and Florida this year.

The Arizona Department of Corrections, U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons have all adopted policies in the past decade that prohibit the shackling of women in labor.

The practice is “inhumane” and “Draconian,” said Imani Walker, the executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a Washington D.C.-based group that lobbied the federal prison system to adopt restrictions on shackling pregnant prisoners.

Lawmakers in Arizona tried to pass a law restricting the practice last year, but the bill failed to make it out of a committee. This year, lawmakers from both parties have signed onto the Senate bill and a similar proposal that’s been introduced in the House.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jeff Sprong said the agency is neutral on the bill after working on a compromise with lawmakers that allowed the use of a leg tether to be attached to an inmate’s ankle and the bed frame during postpartum recovery.

The bill stipulates that if restraints are used during the delivery process, they should be “done in the least restrictive manner necessary.”

Dr. Lisa Cookingham, who practices obstetrics and gynecology in the Phoenix area, testified at the hearing in support of the bill and said she cares for incarcerated patients on a regular basis.

In a recent case, she said one of her patients went into labor at six and a half months and needed an emergency delivery of the baby. Cookingham said officers initially refused her requests to remove shackles on the patient’s legs, which jeopardized the care of the mother and child.

“This unfortunately is not unique situation,” she said.

Cookingham said she appreciates the security measures, but feels they are often excessive and ignore health and safety concerns.

The bill advances to the Senate rules committee. From there, if it passes, the measure would move to the full Senate.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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