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Health Rights in the Balance: The Case Against Perinatal Shackling of Women Behind Bars
Brett Dignam and Eli Y. Adashi
Rationalized for decades on security grounds, perinatal shackling entails the application of handcuffs, leg irons, and/or waist shackles to the incarcerated woman prior to, during, and after labor and delivery. During labor and delivery proper, perinatal shackling may entail chaining women to the hospital bed by the ankle, wrist, or both. Medically untenable, legally challenged, and ever controversial, perinatal shackling remains the standard of practice in most US states despite sustained two-decades-long efforts by health rights legal advocates, human rights organizations, and medical professionals. Herein we review the current statutory, regulatory, legal, and medical framework undergirding the use of restraints on pregnant inmates and explore potential avenues of redress and relief to this challenge. We also recognize the courage of the women whose stories are being told. If history is any guide, the collective thrust of domestic and international law, attendant litigation, dedicated advocacy, and strength of argument bode well for continued progress toward restraint-free pregnancies in correctional settings.