The US must stop shackling pregnant female prisoners when they are
giving birth, Amnesty International has said.
"The routine use of restraints on pregnant women... [is] a cruel
and unusual practice that can rarely be justified," the group said in a
Only one state currently bans leg irons on female inmates while they are being
taken to hospital during labour.
US government policy urges measures to ensure foetuses are not harmed if a
pregnant prisoner is restrained.
The New York Times described the case of one pregnant inmate whose legs were allegedly
shackled together during 12 hours of labour, despite requests by a doctor and
two nurses that she not be restrained.
"The doctor who was delivering the baby made them remove the shackles
for the actual delivery at the very end," lawyer Cathleen Compton told
Shawanna Nelson had been jailed in Arkansas for identity fraud and writing
bad cheques. She gave birth in 2003 at age 30, the newspaper said.
She is suing the prison and Correctional Medical Services, claiming she suffers
ongoing back pain and damage to her sciatic nerve because she was largely unable
to move during her labour.
The defendants deny having harmed Ms Nelson, the New York Times said, citing
Arkansas defends its policy.
"Though these are pregnant women, they are still convicted felons, and
sometimes violent in nature," Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas
Department of Corrections, told the newspaper.
"There have been instances when we've had a female inmate try to hurt
hospital staff during delivery."
Prosecution for rape
Amnesty also called for new laws that would cut down on the sexual abuse of
women in prison.
"Statutes should bar sexual contact between staff and inmates and leave
no room for exceptions," Amnesty said in Abuse of Women in Custody: Sexual
Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women.
The human rights group carried out a survey of law and practice in all 50 states,
the District of Columbia and the US Bureau of Prisons.
Each state makes its own regulations on how prisoners are treated in its correctional
Amnesty found that not a single state had laws covering all six areas it considered
essential for protecting prisoners from sexual misconduct.
It recommendations include:
Forbidding sexual relations between inmates and prison staff. Six states
do not have laws barring them
Banning all forms of sexual abuse, including threats
Ensuring that laws designed to prevent abuse apply to all staff and contractors
working at all correctional facilities and locations
Making it impossible to hold an inmate criminally liable for engaging in
sexual conduct. At least one state has laws under which a prisoner can be
charged for being raped.
It also proposes that female prisoners be guarded only by female officers and
that pat-down searches of women be carried out only by women.