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In a Victory, Virginia Prisons Will Limit the Shackling of Pregnant Women

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Written by Katherine Greenier for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Harold Clarke has led the DOC though a forward-thinking policy change that should begin a statewide conversation and passage of legislation before the Virginia General Assembly.

House Bill 1488, a bill that would have limited the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, failed in the House Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee in the 2011 legislative session. However, Director Clarke and staff at the DOC took seriously the conversations sparked by the Committee debate over the bill. Supporters of the bill, which was introduced by Delegate Hope, put pressure on the DOC to change their policies in the absence of legislative action.

As a result, the DOC will now adopt regulations that protect a pregnant inmate’s dignity and health, and the health and safety of her pregnancy. DOC regulations will now state that pregnant inmates will only be retrained during transport outside the prison perimeter by handcuffs alone. Ankle restraints or restraints that in any other way restrict the woman’s movement will not be used during transportation outside the prison, or during labor, delivery and post-partum recovery. Additional restraints can be applied if a determination is made that the inmate is a danger to herself or others, but should additional restraints be used, they must allow for the woman to walk around, stand up, and turn over. If additional restraints are applied, an incident report must be submitted that states the restraints used and the reason why in order to ensure compliance and accountability. Finally, all restraints must be immediately removed if medical staff so direct.

The new DOC regulations are sound public health policy. Restraining a pregnant woman can pose undue health risks to the woman and her pregnancy.

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