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Pregnant prisoner restraint ban fails to make it out of committee

Pregnant prisoner restraint ban fails to make it out of committee

Dustin Hurst
April 2, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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April 2, 2010

During the legislative session, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, introduced a bill which would have prohibited women incarcerated in jails and prisons from being shackled or otherwise restrained during childbirth.  That legislation never made it out of committee, however, due to opposition from the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC).

McGeachin explained that the legislation is in 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.

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

At the hearing on the bill, McGeachin said that she is “surprised” shackling could even transpire and said that there have been some “alleged” instances where shackling may have happened in Idaho, though she offered no specifics.  The legislation, crafted by McGeachin with help from the Idaho Sheriff's Association, is about keeping local officials out of court rooms.

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

During an interview Thursday, McGeachin said that IDOC actually opposed her legislation because of certain details contained in the language.  She told blog talk radio show host Halli Stone that it would have been "tough" to get the bill through the House and Senate Judiciary Committees with IDOC opposition.  On the show, McGeachin pledged to continue to work on the bill while the Legislature is not in session and hopes to have a new version ready for 2011.  Though IDOC has a policy prohibiting the practice of shackling female prisoners during labor, McGeachin told Stone that many local sheriffs do not.

"We still have a hole at the local level," said McGeachin.

Jeffrey Ray, IDOC spokesman, said, in a statement to IdahoReporter.com, the department's policy, which is to not shackle pregnant prisoners in the final stages of labor, is sufficient and that McGeachin's legislation "would have created a law where one is not needed."   He noted that the only time when a prisoner is shackled during labor is when she poses a risk to herself, the doctor or nurse in charge of her care, or the public.

"The measure's statement of purpose claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the use of restraints during labor to be cruel and unusual punishment," said Ray.  "There is no such ruling, so no remedy is needed."

Lt. Scott Johnson with the Ada County Jail reports that his facility does not shackle prisoners in labor unless there are “extraneous circumstances” which might require it.  Johnson said that the typical procedure in handling a pregnancy is to load the woman into a secure vehicle and transport her to a local hospital for delivery of the baby.  Other detention facilities across the state, including the Bonneville County Jail in Idaho Falls, said that while childbirth in jail is a rare occurrence, administrators work with inmates to grant furloughs if labor could take place during their time in jail.

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