RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some pregnant women in North Carolina prisons and jails face the possibility of giving birth in restraints.
“Labor is a physically demanding process. I can’t imagine being physically restrained doing it,” said Dr. Kerianne Crockett.
Crockett has treated pregnant women in area detention centers and knows the health risks that restraints could pose to the pregnant inmates.
“I took care of a patient who was at an area jail during her pregnancy. She was restrained with ankle and wrist cuffs during her labor and delivery and postpartum time. She also suffered the devastating loss of her infant,” Crockett said.
Crockett couldn’t attribute the baby’s death to the mother’s restraints but said giving birth in handcuffs isn’t conducive to anyone’s well-being.
Some state lawmakers are working to make sure pregnant inmates and their unborn babies have proper care through a new bill called the Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated Act.
Earlier this week lawmakers, law enforcement and advocates came together to introduce House Bill 608.
It would prohibit the use of restraints on women during their second and third trimesters of pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum recovery.
It also requires that women are given proper food and nutrition, limits restrictive housing, and mandates training for correctional officers to support pregnant women’s physical and mental needs.
“No one should have to make choices with lifelong implications under distress,” said Kristie Puckett Williams.
This push is personal for Williams — she was once locked up and pregnant.
“Five days after I took a plea so my children could be born free, I had a set of twin girls that surprised everyone. I knew that if I didn’t take that plea I would have been chained to a bed while birthing them,” said Williams.
Williams who is now the Smart Justice Manager for the ACLU North Carolina, along with Dr. Crockett shared their stories this week with the state lawmakers who support the bill including Rep. Kristin Baker, Rep. Ashton Clemmons, and Sen. Amy Galey.
The bill calls into question security concerns, but Baker who serves North Carolina’s 82nd District said the legislation keeps safety in mind
“We have worked to ensure the health and well-being of incarcerated women who are pregnant and we’ve done that while keeping a clear focus on maintaining security and safety,” Baker said.
Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson was also there representing the North Carolina Sheriffs Association.
“We’re all very concerned about women who are incarcerated and pregnant but we are also concerned with the child that didn’t choose to come into this world,” Johnson said.
Johnson said House Bill 608 meets the need of pregnant inmates.
“We’re going to work hard to try and see that we improve on some of the things we haven’t looked at in the association,” he said.
North Carolina Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishe said there are 28 pregnant women currently housed at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women.
“We have a dedicated area for the women that are pregnant and they can receive the proper care. They’re somewhat separated from the general population,” Ishe said.
Ishe said this bill encourages growth in their current policies.
“There have been some isolated cases that we found where our policies have not been followed, but we have addressed those on an individual basis, but we look forward to continuing to grow and evolve our practices in this area,” Ishe said.
More than 30 states, including South Carolina, already passed legislation that restricts shackling of pregnant women.