— By Heather Schultz
Female incarceration rates are growing twice as fast as male incarceration rates and the prison system remains decades behind on women’s reproductive rights. The majority of states do not protect incarcerated women against shackling procedures, where they are forced to give birth while physically restrained. This unnecessary practice is both inhumane and humiliating as it involves the placement of shackles and handcuffs around a woman’s ankles and/or wrists, as well as chains around their stomach throughout labor and delivery. Those in favor of shackling also argue that it is necessary to prevent incarcerated women from harming themselves and others, but in fact, the majority of incarcerated women are nonviolent offenders.
This month, Massachusetts and Minnesota enacted laws that prohibit the shackling of incarcerated women during labor, childbirth, and recovery. They join 19 other states that have adopted anti-shackling legislation. As the prison system gradually learns to apply a gender-sensitive lens, the unconstitutional and barbaric practice of shackling must be abolished entirely at the local, state, and federal levels.