chart of US women's prison pop vs. the world's

New report shows New York prisons are still illegally shackling pregnant inmates

chart of US women's prison pop vs. the world's

Chart via the Women in Prison Project’s report.

In 2009, New York banned the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor. But, according to a new report from the Correctional Association of New York’s Women in Prison Project, prisons in the state haven’t stopped the degrading and dangerous practice. 

ThinkProgress reports: “After surveying nearly 950 incarcerated women, researchers found that, among the 27 participants who gave birth after the shackling ban was passed, 23 of them were still restrained at some point during their labor or delivery. They described their experiences as ‘painful,’ ‘horrible,’ and ‘degrading.'”

Shacking during labor is opposed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has been called “barbaric” by the American Medical Association, and was banned by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2007. But less than half of states have enacted laws prohibiting the practice in state prisons, though there’s been a push to change that in recent years. But this report serves as an important reminder that changing unjust policies is meaningless without proper enforcement. Who polices the police — or the prisons?

And, as the report reveals, shackling is just one of many reproductive injustices that women in prison face — including inadequate access to contraception, timely OB/GYN care, menstrual pads, and even food — and it’s a nationwide problem. The Women in Prison Project has specific recommendations to address all those failures, but “chief among these recommendations” is to provide alternatives to incarceration to reduce the prison population. “[T]he best solution to the problems outlined in this report is to keep women, especially pregnant women and women with small children, out of prison in the first place.”

In the words of CeCe McDonald: Prison’s aren’t safe for anyone.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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