New Jersey Lacks Law Addressing Shackling of Pregnant Inmates Because Gov. Christie Wouldn’t Sign It

Nicole Knight Shine, Mountain West Region Reporting Fellow, RH Reality Check

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed nearly 100 bills as the legislative session came to a close this January, but a measure to address the shackling of pregnant inmates wasn’t one of them.

Despite winning unanimous bipartisan support in the state assembly and senate, the bill died without the Republican presidential hopeful’s signature. The measure, S 221, would have severely curtailed the use of restraints on inmates during all stages of pregnancy, including after delivery.

The medical community has denounced shackling during pregnancy, which can include placing handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons on a person. The American Medical Association has called it “barbaric,” while the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists described it as “demeaning and unnecessary.”

Data from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group, indicate that one in 25 women in state prisons and one in 33 in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.

When asked about Christie’s failure to sign the new safeguards into law, the governor’s Deputy Press Secretary, Joelle Farrell, told Rachel Roth for MomsRising that, “Many of these bills seek to address important issues that deserve attention, but not with an 11th hour, ill-considered rush.”

The United States adopted a federal anti-shackling policy in 2008, but that does not apply to the more than 86 percent of U.S. prisoners housed in state prisons, as a recent shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture pointed out. At present, 18 states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant inmates by law, while another 24 states limit their use through institutional policies. Eight states do not have any form of regulation at all. There exists a number of gaps in the policies that do exist, the report indicates, and many are not implemented.

Shackling during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery can pose substantial medical risks to the health of the woman and her fetus, the report notes.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the New Jersey bill’s sponsors, called the bill “commonsense [and] humane,” according to MomsRising.

Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill that generally bars the use of restraints prior to or after childbirth for inmates. That legislation, like the New Jersey bill, enjoyed bipartisan support.