ACLU Victory: No More Shackles on Pregnant Prisoners

After years of work from the ACLU of California and our allies, dangerous shackles and restraints can no longer be used on pregnant women in our state’s prisons and jails. Last Friday, Governor Brown signed AB 2530, authored by San Diego Assemblymember Toni Atkins, after it passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

In 2005 California became one of the first states to prohibit the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor, delivery, and recovery after childbirth. Now, California has taken another step forward to protect the health of incarcerated women – this time by prohibiting shackling throughout pregnancy.

Since 2010 when the issue surfaced on the legislative calendar, universal support appeared to greet the idea.  In fact, the legislature unanimously supported the bill two years in a row but, each year, law enforcement found a new reason to oppose the legislation. Lobbyists argued that they could not create standards for how women were transported, that it was too expensive and unnecessary. The ACLU of California and its allies tried to accommodate the opposition, yet the two previous versions of the bill were vetoed, first by Governor Schwarzenegger and then by Governor Brown.

Despite the discouraging vetoes, our coalition sought to make the bill a reality in 2012. Taking care to address the governor’s 2011 veto message, attorneys studied other states’ laws and talked with law enforcement about their use of restraints. The ACLU also talked to doctors and gathered stories from women who endured falls and injuries as a result of being shackled while pregnant. Even law enforcement agency eventually agreed with the bill.

In the final weeks of September, nearly 6,000 letters were sent to the Governor urging his signature.

The efforts in 2012 were successful. In the state of California, the most dangerous forms of restraints can no longer be used on pregnant women in jail or prison. Doctors will no longer have to argue with guards over the removal of restraints. And every pregnant woman and juvenile in this system must be informed of these rights.

While we allow ourselves a  moment to celebrate an important victory for women across California, we are all too aware of how much more work must be done–from implementation of the law to tackling the cycle of incarceration.  We keep working toward those goals, but right now, we can hold our heads just a little higher knowing we once again worked for the passage of a revolutionary law, long overdue. Better late than never.

Adapted from an article by Alicia M. Walters, ACLU of Northern California

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties fights for individual rights, fundamental freedoms, and equal protection under the law for all through education, litigation and policy advocacy.