A ground-breaking new report by award-winning reporter Victoria Law shows the horrendous and inhumane treatment of female inmates while they are going through childbirth.
Despite state bans, pregnant inmates are still chained by their arms — and sometimes even by their legs — to the hospital bed while they give birth. Tawanna Nelson, a woman who was pregnant while imprisoned in Arkansas, tells her story of giving birth while guards shackled her in 2010.
"Once I arrived at the delivery room, the labor room, I was shackled. My feet were shackled to the bed, the metal post of the bed, and my hand was shackled to the IV rail. I asked for the chains to be removed. I asked for pain medicine. And I even asked—my pains were so tremendously, I asked for a cesarean. I didn’t have any pain medicine. The only thing I was given was two Tylenol. When the nurses came in, the guard would remove the chains, but as soon as the nurses would leave out of the room, the guard would shackle me back. So within a two-to-three-minute period, once they checked me and go chart the notes, the guard would put the chains back on me. And I felt that the guard somehow was trying to teach me a lesson of being pregnant and being in prison."
Law's investigation also covers the story of a woman who gave birth in 2012 inside a Texas prison jail cell without any medical attention. The baby was born dark purple and unresponsive with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck — the baby later died.
Tamar Kraft-Stolar works at the nonprofit Correctional Association, an organization that is mandated by the state to monitor the living conditions in New York prisons.
”Having a law on the books is just one part of the picture,” she told NPR. Kraft-Stolar explains that there are almost no oversights to ensure that this new anti-shackle law is followed. “And there is routine and widely accepted dehumanization of incarcerated people, and that's really a recipe for unchecked human rights violations.”
According to NPR, of the 27 women that were monitored for the report in the last five years, 23 of them were shackled during childbirth. When approached by Natasha Haverty of NPR about the issue, New York State’s Department of Corrections declined to comment.
This harrowing and shark image that is painted by Haverty and Kraft-Solar leaves much to be desired. While there are a few passionate people on the case, there simply isn’t enough attention to the issue by the public for the Department of Corrections to feel they need to do anything about it. Until attitudes towards these women are altered, this inhumane and barbaric treatment of pregnant inmates will continue.