Advocates Looking to Change Prison Regulations on Shackling of Women Giving Birth

Advocates in Massachusetts are pushing a bill to prevent prison guards from handcuffing women inmates to hospital beds during labor and childbirth. But there’s a dispute over how often this actually happens.

Massachusetts Department of Corrections regulations allow officers to shackle women to the bed by one wrist or one ankle.

The chairman of the House Committee on Public Safety, Hank Naughton, says he hadn’t heard of the practice until a recent legislative hearing.

“What we’ve been told anecdotally by the Department of Corrections is that they haven’t used the practice in years, even though it’s on the books,” Naughton says.

But at the hearing, a number of midwives, lawyers and volunteers who have helped pregnant inmates in labor said it’s common. They told lawmakers about a woman who was shackled by her hands and feet and chained to a radiator while waiting to be taken to a hospital to give birth.

They also spoke about times when guards refused to wait outside the room, to provide prisoners with privacy during childbirth.

Naughton says he will ask the Department of Corrections for an official report.

The DOC hasn’t returned our requests for comment.