(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) to prohibit the use of restraints on female prisoners during labor and immediately after childbirth was released Thursday by the Assembly Women and Children Committee.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in the United States, have clearly stated their opposition to the practice of shackling. According to the ACOG, shackling interferes with the ability of physicians to safely practice medicine and is “demeaning and unnecessary.”
“I cannot imagine women having to go through hours of labor while shackled to a hospital bed, or a baby being brought into this world under such circumstances,” said Vainieri Huttle. “A little humanity in this instance can go a long way.”
The bill would change the law pertaining to the Role of the Division of Child Protection and Placement & Court Procedure to prohibit the restraint of women prisoners during and immediately after childbirth. Specifically, the bill (A-2186) would prohibit correctional facility staff or medical providers from applying restraints to a female prisoner known to be pregnant during any stage of labor, any pregnancy related medical distress, transport to a medical facility, delivery, or postpartum.
Vainieri Huttle noted that the vast majority of female prisoners or detainees in New Jersey are non-violent offenders. While states justify using restraints to prevent escapes, there are no reports of women in labor having ever attempted escape. California, Illinois, and Vermont – states that prohibit the practice – have not experienced increased security issues or flight attempts.
The bill would make an exception if a supervising employee or medical provider determines that the prisoner presents a substantial flight risk, or some other extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that restraints are needed to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other prisoners, or the public. In cases where restraints are permitted, the bill would require that the least restrictive type and application of restraint be used, and that employees of the facility or a medical provider be present to immediately remove the restraints if it becomes medically necessary, or if it is requested by a health care professional.
Under the bill, the use of leg and waist restraints on a prisoner who is in labor would not be allowed under any circumstance.
“This is not just about these women, but the health of their babies,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Restraints make the process of labor and birth that much more arduous. Unless there are indeed extraordinary circumstances, restraints should not be used on pregnant women.”
The bill would take effect on the first day of the fourth month following enactment.