OUR VIEW: Bill would unchain inmates giving birth (vote in poll)

April 28, 2010
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In this country, even prisoners and inmates are supposed to be treated with a modicum of basic dignity. Senate Bill 193, known as the anti-shackling bill, would ensure that pregnant mothers in Colorado prisons and jails, and their babies, are protected from the dehumanizing and dangerous ordeal of labor in chains.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday with the blemish of a small fiscal note of $44,000 — purportedly the additional annual cost of guarding unshackled women in labor. Other states have passed similar bills without incurring additional costs, but officials of the Colorado Department of Corrections insist they will need to have more correctional staff with inmates in the hospital if laboring mothers aren’t shackled.

The little-known bill, sponsored by Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, would prohibit the shackling of inmates and prisoners in all public and private incarceration facilities who are in labor, giving birth or recovering from giving birth. It makes an exception for mothers who pose threats to themselves or others, and for those who represent serious flight risks. The bill would require written public disclosure and explanation when exceptions are made.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, supports the bill because he says the state has a vested interest in protecting the health of mothers and babies from problems that can arise from giving birth in restraints.

Senators heard testimony from Boulder Weekly editor Pamela White, who researched and published a story on the horrors of women who have given birth while shackled.

“It’s about unchaining troubled women whose lives are already complicated,” White told The Gazette. “It’s also about their babies. Their babies are guilty of nothing, and their babies are doing time with them.”

(Please vote in poll to lower right, in red type. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

White, who writes romance novels under a pen name, authored a book that features a Colorado prisoner giving birth in shackles, leading to a law against it. She told senators the real-life story of a Pennsylvania doctor who raced to cut shackles off a woman, using a hacksaw, in order to save mother and baby. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has mounted a campaign to stop the shackling of laboring mothers, declaring it dangerous (see their letter).

Though some Coloradans may have little sympathy for convicts, King reminds them that an unborn child can’t possibly have committed a crime and deserves every opportunity to receive a safe birth. He hopes to add a legislative declaration to the bill that would emphasize the health and safety of inmate mothers and their babies.

White, a self-professed feminist liberal, said she fully supports the declaration proposed by King — an anti-abortion conservative Republican.

Senate Bill 193 is nothing more than an effort to enforce common sense and decency. It deserves continued full bipartisan support and quick passage.

Wayne Laugesen, editorial page editor, for the editorial board

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