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Bill would prevent shackling of prisoners in labor

Bill would prevent shackling of prisoners in labor

Dustin Hurst
March 5, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 5, 2010

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, successfully introduced legislation Tuesday that would, if enacted, prohibit women incarcerated in county jails from being shackled or otherwise restrained during the process of childbirth.

McGeachin stood before the House State Affairs Committee and explained that the legislation is response to and in accordance with a judgment handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in which justices ruled that is a violation of the United States Constitution to shackle a female during childbirth.

According to case notes on the judgment, Arkansas prison inmate Shawanna Nelson was shackled by a correctional officer as she entered childbirth.  Nelson claimed she suffered “extreme mental anguish and pain, permanent hip injury, torn stomach muscles, and an umbilical hernia requiring surgical repair” as a result of being shackled by the correctional officer.   She also described the restraints as the “most painful” part of her birthing process.

Justices ruled that shackling during child birth violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment.

During the hearing Thursday, McGeachin said that she is “surprised” events like this could even transpire and said that there have been some “alleged” instances where this might have happened in Idaho, though she offered no specifics on that point.  She noted that while the Idaho Department of Corrections has a policy against the practice, local county jails do not.  McGeachin’s proposal would join Idaho with the seven other states that currently have passed, or are in the process of passing, anti-shackling legislation.

“This is a proactive step to protect the state of Idaho,” said McGeachin.

Committee members voted unanimously to introduce the bill.  It will receive further hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

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