After over a decade of advocacy, members of the Massachusetts Anti-Shackling Coalition are celebrating unanimous votes in both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and State Senate that will send the Anti-Shackling Bill to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
“I was handcuffed by both my wrist and my ankle to the hospital stretcher for over eighteen hours while I was in labor,” said Michelle Collette, who was incarcerated at MCI-Framingham. “Today, the legislature moved us one step closer to making sure that no woman in Massachusetts will ever again experience what I went through when giving birth to my son.”
Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton) has filed some version of the Anti-Shackling Bill since 2001. In 2013, Senator Karen Spilka (D-Framingham) filed a companion bill in the Senate. Earlier this year, Governor Deval Patrick filed 90-day emergency regulations to immediately prohibit the practice of shackling pregnant women as a stopgap measure until the legislature passed the Anti-Shackling Bill. Last month, both the State Senate and State House unanimously passed versions of the bill. Differences between the two versions have now been reconciled and the final language has been enacted in both chambers.
“We are grateful for the leadership in the legislature and the swift passage of this bill before the 90-day emergency regulations expire next week,” said Megan Amundson, Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Despite the 90-day emergency regulations, the barbaric practice of shackling women in labor has continued in Massachusetts. That is why it is so important that this bill be signed into law.”
Since the emergency regulations were filed in February, advocates have heard reports of two incarcerated women who have gone into labor. Both were shackled during transport, and one was not unshackled when requested by medical personnel. Further, one was shackled in the hospital during labor and during postpartum recuperation without an individualized determination that “extraordinary circumstances” justified it.
Marianne Bullock, founder of the Prison Birth Project, works with pregnant and postpartum women in a jail in Western Massachusetts. “Even still, my clients are brought to the hospital in handcuffs, in the back of a police car, with hard metal seats and no seat belt – often in active labor. They undergo vaginal exams in labor with a leg or wrist shackled to the bed only to be unrestrained when they are cleared by medical staff to go to the delivery room. This law will give officers clear-cut rules to ensure that this doesn’t happen.”
Lauren Petit, staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services, added, “This law is critical because it brings uniformity to the system. Women have different experiences, depending on whether they’re being held at MCI Framingham, Bristol County Jail, or the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center.” She added, “I spoke with an 18 year old woman who received no birthing classes at all. She had no knowledge of what she was going to experience in childbirth or what she needed to do. She reported being transported in DOC transportation vans, handcuffed and shackled and without seatbelts.”
The Massachusetts Anti-Shackling Coalition is made up of formerly incarcerated women, medical groups, legal and human rights organizations, women’s groups, and faith leaders. A growing number of statewide health care organizations are also speaking out against the use of restraints on pregnant women and in favor of new medical care standards for pregnant women. “The Anti-Shackling Bill would reduce the risks and associated costs for pregnant women in our jails and prison by requiring basic medical standards like prenatal and postpartum care, access to health-related information, counseling and dietary needs,” says Health Care For All Executive Director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer.
“The next step is ensuring that this law is enforced,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Policymakers have stepped up to address this ugly reality. But we need to ensure that we never again hear whispers that this is happening behind closed doors.”
Members of the Massachusetts Anti-Shackling Coalition Include:
ACLU of Massachusetts, American Friends Service Committee of Western MA, Arise for Social Justice,
Black and Pink, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Boston Feminists for Liberation, Casa Latina, Casa Myrna, Church of the Covenant, Civil Liberties and Public Policy Project, Coalition for Effective Public Safety, Dismas House—Worcester, Families for Justice as Healing, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, Health Care for All, Health Law Advocates, Hollaback! Boston,
Jane Doe Inc—the MA Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence,
Jewish Alliance on Law and Social Action, JRI Health, The Law Offices of Howard Friedman,
The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization for Women,
Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers,
Massachusetts Public Health Association, Moishe Kevod House,
Mount Holyoke Students Against Mass Incarceration, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts,
National Association of Social Workers—Massachusetts Chapter, National Lawyers Guild,
Massachusetts Chapter, Out Now—Springfield, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts,
Pretrial Working Group, Prison Birth Project, Prisoners’ Assistance Project at NUSL,
Prisoners’ Legal Services, Prison Policy Initiative, Real Cost of Prisons Project,
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The Spanish American Center, SPAN,
Stern, Shapiro, Weissberg and Garin, LLP, And Still We Rise, Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry,
The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, Worcester Homeless Action Committee