Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

12 April 2011

URGENT: Call your IL State Representative on Wednesday!

HB 1958 - The Anti-Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners bill's amendment number 2 will be voted upon and we need this amendment to pass in order for the bill to continue to move forward.

Call state representatives and urge them to vote YES on HB 1958. http://www.ilga.gov/house/ Capitol switchboard 217-782-2000.

In 2000, Illinois became the first state in the nation to ban shackling pregnant women during labor, in legislation that passed unanimously. Corrections officials are violating the ban. Women charged with nonviolent crimes have been placed in leg irons, with their hands cuffed to chain belts, when brought to the hospital. They have been shackled by one wrist and the opposite ankle to their hospital beds, impeding labor. HB 1958 clarifies and strengthens the law to protect the lives and health of mothers and infants.
  • 81% of women in Illinois prisons are mothers.
  • 6% to 10% of women prisoners are pregnant while incarcerated.
  • About 67% of women prisoners in Illinois are convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, property crimes such as retail theft or forgery, and prostitution.
No pregnant women have escaped in the ten years since Illinois banned the use of shackles on pregnant women in labor, according to sworn testimony from the Superintendent of the Cook County Jail’s women’s division and information from state corrections officials.

House Bill 1958 fixes gaps in the 1999 legislation banning the shackling of women in labor. Amendment 2 reflects major compromises to balance the safety of pregnant women with correctional security needs.

1. It removes the changes to the Unified Code of Corrections. Advocates will work with the Illinois Department of Corrections in the coming year to address recent violations of the 1999 act and to extend the ban on belly chains and leg irons to women in pregnancy-related medical distress and pre-term labor.

2. It allows sheriffs to handcuff pregnant women in front during transport, unless the woman is in labor or pregnancy-related medical distress. This is a compromise to prevent the use of belly chains and leg irons on pregnant women while allowing sheriff departments with small staffs to use cuffs when transporting a group of pretrial detainees to court hearings.

3. It removes the reference to the Tort Immunity Act. The section referenced is:
Neither a local public entity nor a public employee is liable for injury proximately caused by the failure of the employee to furnish or obtain medical care for a prisoner in his custody; but this Section shall not apply where the employee, acting within the scope of his employment, knows from his observation of conditions that the prisoner is in need of immediate medical care and, through willful and wanton conduct, fails to take reasonable action to summon medical care. Nothing in this Section requires the periodic inspection of prisoners.

Its inclusion or exclusion should not change how the Act applies – inmates still may not sue for denial of medical care unless wanton and willful – and it prevents the redundant reference which the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association found objectionable.

4. A simple annual reporting requirement remains in place to track instances of restraints used under the extraordinary circumstances exception. This is vitally important for transparency. It will provide the necessary information to determine whether the new framework is effective and to point the way for any future fine-tuning.

5. At the urging of the Illinois Sheriffs Association, a simple provision mandating training of correctional staff on the law has been added.

The proposed legislation:
  • Protects the mother and fetus from chain belts and leg irons throughout pregnancy.
  • Provides clear definitions to guide corrections officials.
  • Provides exceptions for imminent risk of escape or harm, and for psychiatric restraints when medically necessary.
  • Provides a simple reporting requirement for government transparency.
  • Prevents trauma, violations of privacy and HIPPA violations by having officers posted outside the delivery room unless medical staff request their presence.
  • Benefits from the lessons learned by ten other states and the U.S. Marshals in banning the use of shackles on pregnant prisoners.
Nationwide, lawmakers are taking a stand against this dangerous practice. Eleven states and the federal marshals have recently banned shackling and nine more states have legislation pending at present.

Thanks to CLAIM for being a leader on this issue!

Call state representatives and urge them to vote YES on HB 1958. http://www.ilga.gov/house/ Capitol switchboard 217-782-2000.

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