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Pregnant Inmates Shackled During Labor


During the last fifteen years, only twenty one states have enacted regulations restricting shackling during labor and post-delivery recuperation. The American Medical Association in a 2010 resolution called the practice of shackling pregnant inmates unsafe, medically dangerous, and “barbaric.” Many physicians and nurses assert that shackling pregnant inmates during any stage of the pregnancy is damaging to the pregnant mothers and their babies. Shackling restricts the pregnant mother from moving in order to manage the pains of labor and birth. Shackling can aggravate birthing risks which include: pre-eclampsia (a condition causing a pregnant woman to have high blood pressure), premature birth, and increased risk of falls that could seriously injure the fetus.

However, even the record of states with restrictions is blemished. Many of the jails and prisons do not follow the rules and do not have well defined written policies about shackling pregnant inmates giving birth. In 2012, Valerie Nabors filed a claim against the state of Nevada for injuries that she suffered from shackling during labor. Despite the banning of shackles during labor in Nevada, the officers handcuffed and shackled her during transit to the hospital.  An ambulance supervisor protested that the restraints were dangerous since it prevented access for any emergency. At the hospital, a delivery room nurse insisted on the removal of the shackles for an emergency Cesarean section. The officers finally consented, but ten minutes after birth, once again Valerie Nabors was shackled. Ms. Nabor’s physicians found that injuries of pubic bones separation and pulled groin muscles were caused by her shackles. Ms. Nabors received a settlement of $130,000. Ms. Nabors was incarcerated for a minor nonviolent offense.

In 2012, despite restrictions against restraints for pregnant women during labor in New York, Ms. Mcdougall, was shackled for her return to the prison although she had an emergency cesarean section, and had required a blood transfusion. Handcuffs were attached tightly to a chain around her stomach. A recent survey of twenty seven women who gave birth while incarcerated in New York revealed that twenty three were either shackled before, during, or after giving birth.

Opponents argue that a pregnant inmate could try to escape and injure a member of the medical staff during the attempt. However, states that have restricted shackling of pregnant prisoners do not have any documented record of women in labor trying to escape and causing harm to the public, security guards, or medical staff.

There is no excuse or reason for shackling a pregnant inmate during or after labor. It is time for every state not only to ban, but enforce the restrictions prohibiting shackling pregnant inmates during and after labor.It is time to wipe this ugly stain from the American record.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of

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12 Responses to Pregnant Inmates Shackled During Labor

  1. PrisonPath February 10, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks Bradley This never ceases to amaze – and infuriate – me. Shackling women during labor? The people who design these laws have clearly never given birth. I’d like to read their statistics on prison escape whilst in labor! best wishes martine.

  2. PrisonPath February 10, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    There is not one documented escape by a pregnant woman in labor before, during, or after. It’s the theater of the absurd!
    By Brad

  3. PrisonPath February 10, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Dear Bradley Thank you for the article. I work with male offenders and had no idea this was going on. It is barbaric. What do they think these pregnant women are going to do? Have their baby and then beat the guards over the head with it? These women are in enough pain and agony before, during, and after. And we call ourselves a civilized society! I, myself, am disabled and one much medication. God forbid I ever commit a “crime” and become incarcerated. It would be a death sentence. I really appreciate these articles and I pray that more people in the general public would read and understand what is going on in our “rehabilitative” system. One of my groups has told me that now they don’t even get meat anymore, except on Christmas and Thanksgiving. The rest of the time it is soy protein mixed with North American rat. A privatized prison, of course. God BLess you for all you do Maryjo

  4. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    This is really shocking. I am so glad attorneys such as Joy are bringing cases. This issue needs to be made more public — beyond just lawsuits so that the public knows about this. Are you and other lawyers doing this Joy? Are there any particular stories that need to get our there — the whole thing is disturbing and hopefully ultimately illegal — but there may be one or two stories which would grab the public the most. Are men undergoing medical procedures also shackled? Are all pregnant inmates undergoing a delivery shackled or only inmates who are perceived to be particularly dangerous?
    By Allegra

  5. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    Is there something inherently wrong with reasonably shackling an inmate for the protection of the medical staff and public at large? I’ve witnessed 4 children being born, and had the mother been shackled during the delivery without impeding her ability to deliver (something that I imagine can easily be done), I doubt she would have even noticed, given all the other matters of child birth that absorb one’s attention.
    By Eric

  6. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Yes, there is something inherently wrong with it. For one thing, two circuit courts of appeal have found it violates the Eighth Amendment. See Nelson v. Correctional Medical Svcs. Villegas v. Metro Gvt. of Nashville. See also, Women Prisoners of District of Columbia Corrections. v. District of Columbia, “In general. . . the physical limitations of a woman in the third trimester of pregnancy and the pain involved in delivery make complete shackling redundant and unacceptable in the light of the risk of injury to a woman and baby. The Court believes that legal shackles adequately secure woman prisoners during the third trimester. While a woman is in labor and shortly thereafter, however, the Court finds that shackling is inhumane.”

    Shackling still is a possibility, for women prisoners, who are individually determined to be a threat of flight or security. However, shackling cannot be used across-the-board with women in labor, during delivery, or postpartum. The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology agrees with this position, as well.
    By Joy

  7. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    That’s hardly a universal condemnation, and again I ask: how does shackling inherently place a woman or the child she bears inexorably in harm’s way? It would be hard to imagine anyone wanting to be shackled while giving birth, but then again, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to be shackled in the course of any activity or inactivity. So what key difference lies in the act of giving birth itself? Shackling isn’t for the woman’s sake, it’s for the sake of the innocents around her who are professionally bound to render medical assistance without placing their safety at risk. Not shackling an inmate is itself a risky behavior.
    By Eric

  8. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

    When is any civil rights violation ever “universally condemned?” Here, however, the US Bureau of Prisons, ICE, and US Marshal’s Service have banned the practice. So has the Arizona Department of Corrections.

    As for how shackling “inherently places a woman or the child she bears inexorably in harm’s way,” see this position statement by ACOG:, which discusses those inherent risks to mother and child

    and this statement by the AMA:, which also explains the risk to mother and child.

    The ACLU and Amnesty International also have condemned the practice. See ACLU report on shackling laboring women and girls here:

    So, actually, the medical community, much of the criminal justice community, and two circuit courts have found that this practice does offend not only patient safety, but also common standards of decency.

    and this Amnesty International report that includes a discussion about shackling women in labor

    Meanwhile, it is incorrect to say that not shackling laboring women is “itself a risky behavior.” The studies, above, talk about how women in this circumstance pose little, if no risk. Women who, because of an individualized assessment still are a flight or safety risk, can have the least restrictive restraints put on them.

    In the Mendiola case, client had an epidural. She posed no flight or safety risk — the corrections officers confirmed that in deposition testimony. I doubt that increased once she received an epidural and couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. After her c-section, she also wasn’t moving fast, even after the epidural wore off.
    By Joy

  9. PrisonPath February 11, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    The shackling of pregnant inmates during or after labor violates the basic concept of any civilized society. It is 2015,and the shackling of pregnant women belongs to the medieval age. Since I was personally shackled numerous times during my 15 months of imprisonment, it is hard for me to imagine a pregnant woman undergoing a tight metal chain around her stomach and her ankles weighted down by shackles. The pain and discomfort would be hard and dangerous for a woman being transported to a hospital and then undergoing labor at a hospital. The actual birth process would be seriouly hampered by the restraints. It is absurd to consider a pregnant woman during labor as a flight risk or a danger to the medical staff. There is no record of a pregnant inmate during labor escaping or harming a staff member.Doctors, nurses, and their respective organization have condemned shackling pregnant inmates. It is time for this abhorrent practice to end.
    By Bradley
    Founder of

  10. PrisonPath February 18, 2015 at 2:05 am #

    Great article and I agree with you, shackles are totally unnecessary during labor and birth.
    By Lois

  11. PrisonPath February 18, 2015 at 2:06 am #

    Thanks Lois, it is just shocking that in 2015, we shackle pregnant women.
    By Bradley Schwartz

  12. Philip Rule March 1, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    If I may offer a perspective from Britain: when transporting offenders for medical purposes, and indeed when defendants appear in court, there must always be a justification for handcuffs individual to the offender. For instance dangerous violent offenders may require handcuffs when others would not, but even a violent offender must be shown to require handcuffs so where medically incapacitated to present a risk, or where behaviour does not warrant it perhaps, it may still be unlawful to handcuff a prisoner. In the case of a childbirth delivery when detained in a hospital room with prison guards in attendance it is hard to think of many cases, if any, where handcuffs could be justified. The handcuffing would be a violation of Articles 3 or 8 ECHR.

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