A bill in the legislature would establish policies and procedures for physical restraints applied to pregnant women who are incarcerated. As presented before a House committee Thursday, the measure’s wording applied to all such prisoners.
However, while introducing it, sponsor Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-Olivette) noted she’d been working to ensure the safety of doctors and nurses who deal with pregnant inmates, and said she would be open to limiting her bill to third term pregnant offenders.
The measure primarily seeks to protect inmates who are shackled during the pregnancy. Allison Dreith with NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri claimed most incarcerated pregnant women don’t pose a risk.
“They’re often women in these county jails that have been in there for drug abuse reasons” said Dreith. “There’s never been one case in the whole United States about a pregnant offender trying to escape in the middle of giving birth.”
Sara Baker with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri described a couple of cases in which her organization was involved in litigating.
In both instances, prisoners who were in labor were shackled and chained across the chest while being transported over three hours to a prison medical facility to give birth. In one of the cases, the offender gave birth to a still born child who had a blackened foot from being exposed without oxygen.
Committee member Shane Roden (R-Cedar Hill) mentioned that both cases had been settled with large payouts and suggested lawsuits would serve to discourage inappropriate restraint of pregnant inmates.
“Lawsuits seem to be the best way to have some of these sheriff’s department and correctional facilities realize that maybe they need to change their procedures on their own”.
Roden went on to contend that third term inmates still pose a physical danger to prison and jail employees.
“Judging that in the third trimester, pregnant offenders will no longer have a waste restraint on there, kind of concerns me. My wife’s 31-weeks pregnant right now (and) hardly showing. I’d still worry about her kicking my butt right now.”
Roden further pointed out that under current law, inmates could be shackled during labor, but were never restrained while giving birth. Bill sponsor McCreery took issue with Roden’s characterization.
“I feel like you’re trying to just separate out the actual time when the fetus is leaving the woman’s body, and I disagree with how you’re trying to make this labor and delivery process separate. I’m not going to agree with you that these are separate things.”
McCreery’s bill details how officers would be required to be trained for events when pregnant women are restrained with shackles. It bill also calls for extensive documentation of such actions.
The bill is similar to a measure sponsored by Rep. Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrolton). A similar measure also passed out of the Senate last year, failed to advance in the House.