Advocates cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Anti-Shackling Bill into law at a public event in Nurse’s Hall on Thursday. Massachusetts is now the 20th state with such a law on its books.
“I am thrilled that people now see how unsafe, degrading and dehumanizing the practice of shackling is,” said Kenzie, a resident in Western Massachusetts and member of the Prison Birth Project, who was shackled while in labor. “For so long, I felt so isolated in my experience, and the fact that my story helped to pass this law feels incredible. Shackling during pregnancy and childbirth is just one example of the many inhumane truths behind bars.”
Representative Kay Khan of Newton has filed some version of the Anti-Shackling Bill since 2001.
In 2013, Senator Karen Spilka, who represents Framingham, filed a companion bill in the Senate. Earlier this year, Governor Deval Patrick filed 90-day emergency regulations to immediately prohibit the practice of shackling pregnant women as a stopgap measure until the legislature passed the Anti-Shackling Bill. The bill was passed unanimously in both chambers.
"The next step is ensuring that this law is enforced,” said Marianne Bullock, founder of the Prison Birth Project, who works with pregnant and postpartum women in a jail in Western Massachusetts. “Despite the Governor’s emergency regulations filed earlier this year, I have heard multiple reports from my clients who have been brought in labor to the hospital in handcuffs and ankleshackles, in the back of a police car, with hard metal seats and no seat belts. They undergo exams in labor with a leg or wristshackled to the bed only to be unrestrained when they are cleared by medical staff to go to the delivery room. This law will give officers clear-cut rules to ensure that this doesn’t happen.”
“The passage of this law is a tremendous victory for women’s health,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Now the challenge is to ensure that it is implemented as intended so that no woman in labor is shackled at any time: not in the corrections facility, not during transport, and not in the hospital. If this campaign did anything, I hope it opened the eyes of corrections officials so that they realize that shackling a pregnant woman puts her health and her pregnancy at risk. And that is unacceptable.”
"Although we’ve heard awful stories for a long time, it has taken years to end this inhumane practice, because corrections authorities didn’t monitor it and insisted it didn’t exist,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel at the ACLU Massachusetts. “Now that there is a good law, the Department of Corrections should conduct real reviews and track it closely. We'll certainly be watching to make sure women aren't still being shackled in the shadows."
“The protections in this new law are incredibly important,” added Lauren Petit, Attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services. “For them to have the intended impact for women in prison and jails, it is critical for the DOC and sheriffs to lead their staff with clear policies and procedures for compliance with the Anti-Shackling law.”
“It is shocking and outrageous that prisoners in Massachusetts have been shackled during labor for this long,” said Spilka. “All women deserve a safe, healthy pregnancy and birth experience. This legislation makes a clear, strong statement that we do not allow this unsafe, inhumane and completely unnecessary practice.”
“I am incredibly proud that today the Governor has signed Anti-Shackling’ legislation into law,” said Khan. “Thanks to NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, the ACLU, the entire Anti-Shackling Coalition, and my colleague Senator Karen Spilka, we have established one uniform standard that protects the health of all pregnant and post-partum incarcerated women. We are reducing physical and psychological traumas in both mothers and children by providing all pregnant women with the appropriate medical treatment throughout their pregnancies, during delivery and in post-partum follow-up care.”