Where's Michigan?

Aug 6, 2008 at 12:00 am

When we read in the July/August issue of Mother Jones that just two states outlaw the shackling of female inmates while they are giving birth, the unshakable optimist in us hoped against hope Michigan was one of the two.

Alas, it's just California and Illinois that have laws against the practice, with Vermont regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women, according to the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for "vulnerable families."

Five states and the District of Columbia have policies against restraining women in labor set by various state agencies. Again, Michigan is not among them.

With about 5 percent of female inmates pregnant when they enter prisons, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, birth behind bars is not a rare situation, says Darla Bardine, associate policy director at the Rebecca Project.

"Our moms are being treated very inhumanely. What's happened is there are no gender-specific practices for women being incarcerated. The rules, policies and practices are implemented for men and being thoughtlessly transferred to women," she says. Restraining women during pregnancy "is not good for the health of the mother or the child," Bardine says.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees. "The practice of shackling an incarcerated woman in labor may not only compromise her health care but is demeaning and unnecessary," writes ACOG executive vice president Ralph Hale in a letter supporting federal legislation to prohibit the practice.

Congress this year mandated that federal agencies begin documenting, reporting and justifying the use of restraints during labor and delivery. Bardine is hopeful this will translate to a complete ban in the federal system soon.

Meanwhile, she's helping coordinate a national effort to lobby states to change their practices. And no, no one from Michigan is yet involved there, she says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]