Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill To Ban Shackling Of Pregnant Inmates

The bill goes now to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for a signature.

The Texas Senate on Friday passed legislation to end the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in the state’s prisons.

The bipartisan House Bill 650, authored by Republican state Rep. James White, includes a number measures intended to address the conditions of incarcerated women. Texas already prohibits the shackling of inmates during labor and immediately postpartum, but guards may still use restraints on them at other times. 

In addition to banning shackling during pregnancy, the bill also mandates the Texas Department of Criminal Justice must provide women in state prisons with more and higher-quality menstrual products. It would also require prisons to allow inmates to remain with their newborns for 72 hours after giving birth.

The bill goes next to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for a signature. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Abbott’s plans.

President Donald Trump in December signed into law a bipartisan bill that, among other criminal justice reforms, bans use of restraints in most circumstances on pregnant inmates in federal prisons.

Caveats to the law include whether the inmate:

  1. “Is an immediate and credible flight risk that cannot reasonably be prevented by other means”
  2. “Poses an immediate and serious threat of harm to herself or others that cannot reasonably be prevented by other means” or
  3. “A healthcare professional responsible for the health and safety of the prisoner determines that the use of restraints is appropriate for the medical safety of the prisoner.”

The legislation, called the First Step Act, also requires the government to begin reporting the number of female prisoners “known by the Bureau of Prisons to be pregnant” and the outcomes of those pregnancies.

Official data on pregnancy in prison is scant, but some recent studies have attempted to fill in the gaps.

One study by Carolyn Sufrin, an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, looked at data on pregnancy in 22 state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons ― which together encompassed 57 percent of all women in prison in the U.S.

The study, conducted from 2016 to 2017, found that 1,396 pregnant women were admitted to responding state and federal prisons. A one-month snapshot in December 2016 found that 3.8% of newly admitted women and 0.6% of all incarcerated women were pregnant. There were more than 111,000 women incarcerated in American prisons in 2016.

The American Civil Liberties Union estimates there are roughly 12,000 pregnant inmates in U.S. jails or prisons each year.

Prisons in most states are still permitted to use restraints on pregnant inmates. California, New York and Illinois have passed laws banning the practice.

Twenty-two states have passed laws in recent years banning the use of restraints on inmates during childbirth, according to The Associated Press.  

The ACLU has warned that “shackling poses special harms to pregnant people.” ACLU National Prison Project fellow Lauren Kuhlik wrote in a December 2018 article:

It can throw them off-balance or prevent them from catching themselves if they fall, potentially harming both the prisoner and the fetus. It can also cause dangerous blood clots.

Shackling during labor and delivery can be even more perilous. Women shackled to their hospital beds during labor may be injured, sometimes severely and permanently, because they are unable to move around as medically necessary while giving birth and cannot be transported immediately in an emergency.

Utah, Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina are currently considering legislation to end the practice of shackling inmates during labor, according to AP.