Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2005
Source: Salon (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 Salon
Author: Ayelet Waldman
Bookmark: (Women)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Why Keeping U.S. Women Prisoners in Shackles During Labor and Delivery Is 
the Real Crime Against Society.

May 23, 2005 - Anna (not her real name), a prisoner at Valley State Prison 
for Women in Chowchilla, Calif., spent the last two weeks of her pregnancy 
in preterm labor, shackled to a hospital bed. If she needed to use the 
bathroom, or even turn over, she had to beg permission of the officer on 
duty. Given these strict security arrangements, you might assume that Anna 
was a terrorist, a murderer, some kind of hardened criminal at risk for 
escape. No. Anna is a minimum-security prisoner currently serving an 
approximately 18-month sentence for drug possession and probation 
violation, and according to Karen Shain, administrative director of Legal 
Services for Prisoners With Children, the treatment she received was 
routine. Whether they are violent offenders or not -- and approximately 66 
percent of incarcerated women in the United States are not -- pregnant 
prisoners are subject to the same dehumanizing treatment.

On May 16, the California state Assembly passed A.B. 478 (49 to 26 with 5 
abstentions), and sent it on to the state Senate. The bill provides that, 
unless necessary, prisoners "shall not be shackled by the wrists, ankles, 
or both during labor, including during transport to the hospital, during 
delivery, and while in recovery after giving birth." It's hard to believe 
that this doesn't go without saying.

But according to Robin Levi, human rights director at Justice Now, a women 
prisoner's rights organization, California and at least 20 other states 
permit the chaining of laboring women to hospital beds, even when their 
attending physicians would prefer that they get up and walk around, or just 
shift from side to side. She also told me that women who return to prison 
from the hospital days after having Caesarean sections are routinely denied 
pain medication and even antibiotics.

Another part of A.B. 478 requires that pregnant women receive "necessary 
nutrition and vitamins, information and education, and regular dental 
cleanings." The necessity of supplying prenatal vitamins is obvious, 
although the fact that it needs to be legislated is troubling.

According to a study by the University of Alabama, gum disease can cause 
both premature birth and low birth weight, preventable by a simple teeth 
cleaning during the second trimester.

Still, providing teeth cleanings to prisoners might strike some as 
unnecessary. After all, only 35.2 percent of Americans have dental 
insurance; why should a prisoner receive what someone who hasn't committed 
a crime does not? Because by incarcerating these mothers, and making it 
impossible for them to seek medical care outside the prison system, we have 
assumed responsibility for their infants.

We owe them this minimal standard of care.

But what we actually do is far short of that. Take Judith (also not her 
real name), another Valley State prisoner, incarcerated on a probation 
violation for saying "Fuck you" to a case worker in a drug treatment 
program. Desperate to get into California's Community Prisoner Mother 
Program, where children can stay with their mothers for up to six years in 
a residential facility, she was informed that she would first have to have 
an oral exam to prove that she had no dental problems, not even a cavity. 
(Karen Shain believes this requirement exists as a filtering mechanism more 
than anything else because there are so many women who qualify for the 
program.) In a cruel paradox, dental care is not provided to applicants to 
the program, other than extractions. No fillings, no cleanings.

Nothing. Judith had myriad dental problems.

According to Shain, in order to be with her baby she had to have 15 teeth 

She had no other choice.

It is hard to figure out the philosophy, either articulated or presumed, 
behind treating women and their babies this way. As much as prison 
maternity policy can sometimes feel like an especially cruel and 
institutionalized form of child abuse, I doubt the individuals running the 
prisons of this country are consciously trying to harm the infants born to 
prisoners. Cristina Rathbone, an investigative journalist whose book "A 
World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars" follows the lives of four 
prisoners at MCI-Framingham, a Massachusetts women's prison, attributes the 
treatment of women in prison to a kind of unconscious cruelty.

Because women are a minority in prisons, they suffer the rules that have 
been invented for violent men. California Department of Correction policies 
simply state that all inmates must be shackled when being transported to 
and from the hospital and while in their hospital beds. No exceptions have 
ever been made, not even for terminally ill or comatose prisoners, so none 
are made for pregnant and laboring prisoners. Until Assembly member Sally 
Lieber, the author and sponsor of the bill, took an interest, it simply 
never occurred to anyone in a position of authority that there was anything 
wrong with that.

Lieber's consciousness about the issue was raised when she visited Valley 
State, met pregnant women prisoners, and saw that their families had to 
bring them bags of food to supplement their inadequate diets.

Lieber says that if other legislators talked to these women and saw the 
conditions they lived in, they would vote for the bill. Instead of viewing 
corrections as an opportunity to prove how tough they are, they might 
realize that, as Lieber says, "there is no excuse for the state of 
California to have starving, shackled pregnant women behind bars."

It does seem that the way we treat all prisoners, especially women, speaks 
of something more than mere indifference. There seems to be a kind of 
retributive force at work that compelled 26 Republicans to oppose this 
bill. The bill asks no more, after all, than that pregnant women be treated 
with a modicum of decency, and that the state take a nearly token interest 
in the well-being of their babies.

Republican opposition was, ostensibly, on fiscal grounds.

This despite the fact that the Assembly appropriations analysis reported 
that the costs associated with the bill are "minor" and "absorbable," less 
than $50,000 a year. Pending the passage of A.B. 478, a pregnant woman in a 
California prison is entitled to no more nutritional supplementation than 
one extra carton of milk per day. The new bill seeks to give her a daily 
prenatal vitamin, slightly more balanced meals, and a single teeth cleaning 
during her pregnancy.

And yet even Republican Assembly member Bill Emmerson, an orthodontist, 
begrudged pregnant prisoners and their babies this low-cost protection, 
voting against it in committee. (Assembly member Emmerson refused to 
comment for this article.)

Why are the architects of the family-values agenda so eager to punish into 
the next generation? What is being served by seeking, quite literally, a 
tooth for a tooth?

Now the California Senate must vote on its version of Bill 478, and then it 
is up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to decide whether to sign the bill or 
to veto it. Until this happens, women prisoners in the state of California, 
like others throughout the country, will labor in shackles, will be fed 
substandard diets while pregnant, and will be denied pain medications and 
antibiotics after delivery, even if they have C-sections. And their babies 
will suffer as a result.

It's possible that the very fact of their mothers' criminal conduct might 
make some people lose interest in the suffering of these children.

However, in her book, Cristina Rathbone gives everyone, even a Republican 
Assembly member, a reason to care. Denise, one of the incarcerated mothers 
at MCI-Framingham whose life Rathbone followed, was convicted of a 
nonviolent drug offense.

Denise's son was 9 years old when she was arrested.

By the time she was released, he had spent five years shuttling between 
foster homes and his abusive father, and was, finally, in prison himself.

When we visit the sins of the parents upon the children, we reap what we sow. 
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