By Aisha Huertas Michel, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women's Rights Project
As we wrote earlier this week, after three years of advocacy we now have regulations governing the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Virginia’s local and regional jails! This is a great victory, but there is still much work to do. So, what’s next?
As we’ve said, the regulations are a great improvement. But, two concerns remain. First, the regulations lack a public reporting requirement. Why does this matter? Because, a public reporting requirement ensures better transparency and accountability. Without it, it is difficult to confirm that the regulations are being properly implemented. Thus, pregnant prisoners and babies may remain at risk of being subjected to this degrading and dangerous treatment. Because a public reporting requirement would increase the incentive for jails to comply with the regulations, it also helps to reduce the risk of litigation (and the potential of costly settlements that would be paid by Virginia taxpayers). Second, the regulations will still permit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates if there has been an individualized determination that the inmate is a “flight risk,” which is not defined. And, given that those correctional officers have reported that they consider all inmates a flight risk or safety risk by the nature of their being in jail, the potential for abuse of this exception is a great concern. Thus, while we now have regulations in place, Virginia’s pregnant jail inmates are not out of the woods yet.
To ensure proper implementation, we must educate Sheriffs and regional jail officials about the existence of the regulations and urge them not to undermine their intent by considering every inmate a “flight risk” just because they are an inmate. Jail personnel must ensure that every “individualized determination” is based solely on the specific facts relating to the individual under consideration and that the facilities annually report any use of restraints under these circumstances. This way, jail officials, taxpayers, and pregnant inmates (and their babies) will all be protected.
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