Georgia proposal would restrict shackling of pregnant inmates

Protesters call on the New York governor to sign an anti-shackling bill. AP photo

Protesters call on the New York governor to sign an anti-shackling bill. AP photo

Georgia prison officials would be restricted from putting pregnant inmates in restraints under an anti-shackling measure up for debate in next year’s legislative session.

The proposal introduced by state Rep. Keisha Waites, an Atlanta Democrat, would ban the state from using handcuffs or shackles on a pregnant inmate while she is in labor, during delivery or recovery unless there’s “reasonable basis” that she could cause harm to herself or others.

“Unfortunately, women and individuals who are incarcerated lack the support to move the conversation forward and shed the light to this practice,” said Waites. “It is my hope you will join me in raising awareness this inhuman practice.”

Human rights groups have long condemned American prisons for shackling pregnant women, and the federal prisons system has adopted anti-shackling policies in federal prisons. At least 18 states have restricted the shackling of pregnant inmates, though many contain broad exceptions.

Waites said she hopes to spark a broader conversation about the restraining of inmates that could dovetail with Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice initiatives. The governor’s prisons overhaul has diverted more low-level offenders to alternative programs and funneled more resources into schools and other rehabilitation programs for those still in prison.

A wave of states have recently restricted the practice, including Minnesota in 2014 and New York in 2015. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the state’s law, which bans shackling of pregnant inmates within eight weeks of delivery, a way to strike “the right balance that protect the health and dignity of a pregnant inmate while also addressing public safety concerns.”

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