NC legislature votes to limit shackling of pregnant inmates, provide other protections for female prisoners –

By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter

Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina lawmakers have nearly finalized a partial ban on shackling pregnant women who are serving time in prison, along with other reforms that promise pre-natal dietary supplements and twice-a-week visits post-delivery for mother and child.

House Bill 608 moved through the state Senate Wednesday on a unanimous vote. One more vote in the House, which passed a similar version of this bill unanimously in May, is needed to send the bill to the governor to sign into law.

The measure drew bipartisan praise.

This is just transformational work," Sen. Natalie Murdock, D-Durham, said from the Senate floor. "Folks have been in talks about this for years.

State prisons policy already limits when a pregnant woman can be shackled, saying it's forbidden during labor, and lays out broader prohibitions against leg irons and waist chains. But advocates have said the policies aren't always practiced and, in the past, have criticized the policies as too vague. The Department of Public Safety revisited its procedures in early 2018, after a report that two women were restrained in labor.

The bill would write rules into the law, limiting shackling during the second and third trimesters, during labor and delivery and during a six-week postpartum recovery period. It allows limited exceptions during transport, provided the woman isn't in labor, as well as when a correctional worker makes "an individualized determination" that wrist cuffs, and only wrist cuffs, are needed.

That decision triggers a written report to the warden, and the reports will be aggregated and forwarded to Department of Public Safety leadership.

The bill also dictates rules relevant to all women in prison, saying menstrual products must be available for free and that inspections by male employees when a female is undressed, such as in the shower, can happen only when a female employee isn't immediately available. These also must be written up and reported up the chain of command, the bill states.

The bill also has other protections for pregnant women, new mothers and babies:

Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, said the bill is important legislation.

"Incarcerated pregnant women are under incredible stress, and science has shown that stress hormones such as cortisol can have lifelong impacts for an unborn baby," Galey said in a statement. "We also have learned a lot about the importance of mother-newborn bonding. It is imperative we ensure that all of North Carolina's unborn babies have their best chance for a healthy life. This bill will increase the opportunity for an incarcerated woman to grow her bond with her newborn baby."

Pregnancy is not uncommon in North Carolina prisons. When WRAL News looked at this issue in 2018, the Department of Public Safety said there were 50 pregnant women in custody at that time. The department said there had been 81 deliveries the year before by women serving time.

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NC legislature votes to limit shackling of pregnant inmates, provide other protections for female prisoners -

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