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Dallas Jail Still Shackling Women in Labor?

Oct 10th, 2011 | Category: Women and Jails
Shackled Woman Inmate

Shackled Woman Inmate in Labor

By KEVIN KRAUSE / Dallas Morning News / August 5, 2010 11:17 AM

Some Texas jails, including in Dallas County, are still shackling pregnant inmates during labor and delivery, a violation of a state law that passed last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Texas Jail Project charged Thursday.

The ACLU and the Texas Jail Project asked the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on Thursday morning in Austin to adopt a new rule banning the practice, which they said would increase awareness and compliance.

However, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department denied that inmates are shackled during labor and delivery.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kim Leach said recent complaints about shackling during childbirth were investigated and determined to be unfounded.

Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the ACLU, said the group continued to get reports of shackling from a variety of sources.

“The shackling of pregnant inmates is recognized by medical associations and the federal government as a practice that endangers the health of women and children,” he said.

One former Dallas County inmate, Melissa Ann Fogle, 24, said she was cuffed to her Parkland Memorial Hospital bed in April before and after she gave birth. Fogle, who was facing drug charges, said the restraint was placed on her ankle.

“As soon as I got out of delivery and was put in a room they handcuffed my ankle back to the bed,” she said in a written statement obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

Leach said late Thursday that she could not immediately address Fogle’s accusations.

Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, told the state jail commission that even though the law went into effect in September prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates, she still gets reports of it happening.

Claitor singled out Dallas County, which is trying to get its jail system to pass state inspection for the first time since 2003.

She said she had heard “reliable reports” that at least two Dallas County jail inmates were subjected to such restraints during labor and that at one point, “medical staff had to ask officers to remove the shackles so they could draw blood and perform other procedures.”

Parkland’s vice president over jail health could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Claitor said she isn’t surprised that jail officials dismissed the reports of handcuffing.

“It’s not uncommon for jails to check on things like this that cast their employees in a negative light and to find that it’s unfounded,” she said. “I find that to be common, unless you have a video camera.”

Leach cited department policy that prohibits the shackling of inmates during labor, delivery and recovery unless the sheriff or a jail supervisor believes it’s necessary to prevent escapes or to protect the inmate, her infant, jail or medical staff, or the public.

The policy is modeled after the law that passed last year. It prohibits the use of restraints on “pregnant inmates or pregnant defendants during labor and delivery or recovery, except where security, safety, or escape risks exist.”

Simpson said the law hasn’t been effective and that the public safety exception is vague. “There’s pretty wide latitude,” he said. “There’s still some tinkering to be done with the bill.”

Simpson said the law should require officers to sign off any time shackles are used. Making the law part of state jail standards will “encourage greater compliance,” he said.

Elisabeth Holland, director of Project Matthew, a faith-based advocate for jailed mothers in Dallas County, said shackling poses risks to a mother’s health.

“You still have risks after leaving the delivery room,” Holland said. “If her movements are restricted, there is a potential she could bleed.”

Claitor said women are reluctant to come forward to report shackling during childbirth because, among other reasons, they are typically on probation after leaving jail and fear retaliation.

“They have a sense of shame and degradation that prevents them from speaking out about it,” she said. Also, women are “traumatized and don’t want to relive it,” she added.

In 1999, Illinois passed the first law banning the shackling of inmates during childbirth. At least nine other states including Texas have since passed similar laws. But women maintain it’s still happening.

In June, a judge gave class-action status to more than 20 former inmates of the Cook County jail in Chicago who sued, alleging they were restrained while giving birth.

The medical community has spoken out about the practice. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2007 supported a federal ban on shackling, the ACLU said. And in June, the American Medical Association passed a resolution opposing it unless necessary for safety or security reasons.

Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas jail commission, said his agency will research the matter to determine whether a new rule should be written.

“Obviously there is still some concern there,” he said. “We will evaluate it.”

After the ACLU’s presentation, the jail commission heard an update from Dallas County officials about progress in their jails. State inspectors are scheduled to arrive here Tuesday to test a new smoke removal system in the north tower jail. If the system works properly, the jails will most likely pass inspection.

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1 Comment
A Voice From Solitary
6 years ago

[…] women during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. But, as both the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Jail Project have found, for women in the state’s jails, the law has not always been put into […]