By Aisha Huertas Michel, Director, Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project
More than three years ago we began looking into the treatment of pregnant women in Virginia’s prisons and jails, and the stories were horrific. How could this happen? Shockingly, we found that there were no regulations in place to guide their use. So, together with a coalition of faith-based, women’s rights, and prison reform advocates, we began advocating for the implementation of regulations limiting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Virginia’s prisons and jails. Today marks a milestone in this effort! As of today, there are now regulations governing the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Virginia’s jails!
Throughout the years, this movement has seen progress and setbacks . Today is about progress, as the regulations that the Board of Corrections finalized late last year limiting the use of restraints on female inmates throughout their pregnancy, including during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery, are finally in force! These regulations create a uniform standard for all local and regional jails and these standards include a ban on the use of waist chains/belts during labor and delivery and clarity that the medical professional, not a correctional officer, has the final say regarding the use of restraints during labor and delivery.
On this day, we commend the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Board of Corrections and the McDonnell and McAuliffe administrations for all they did to ensure humane, safe, and dignified treatment for pregnant inmates and for their babies. But, while we celebrate this victory, we are not out of the woods yet. We must ensure that the regulations are not only in place, but that they are also properly implemented by Sheriffs and regional jail officials. Check back later this week – we’ll discuss these concerns as well as our next steps to ensure that these regulations are properly implemented in all Virginia jails.
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