RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina prison officials say they’ll institute a new policy for pregnant inmates after receiving complaints that two women were restrained during delivery.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that the policy now allows a prisoner to be restrained while in childbirth but not in delivery.
A new policy that will go into effect soon will spell out when restraints should be removed, said Pamela Walker, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.
“The Department of Public Safety, Division of Prisons takes very seriously the health and well-being of all individuals confined within our facilities and appreciates the advocacy groups bringing to our attention their concerns regarding policies and practices specific to pregnant inmates,” Walker said in a statement.
The review comes after SisterSong, an Atlanta-based organization that promotes reproductive rights for women of color, and groups from North Carolina sent a letter to DPS questioning the treatment of the two unnamed inmates.
SisterSong and the others in the coalition praised state prison officials for the review.
“Advocates will continue to work to ensure not only that the policy around shackling during labor is enforced, but to make sure that people are supported during postpartum recovery and that we can improve the access to adequate care and services to promote the health and dignity of people who are incarcerated,” the coalition representatives said in a statement. “We will also work to push for training of staff, so that the policies are consistently enforced.”
Walker said she did not know how long the review would take, but she expected policy changes to be announced soon.
Prison officials are consulting with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Correctional Association to help develop a revised policy that “will balance the well-being and safety of the pregnant inmate with the safety and security of our officers, medical staff and the public at large,” Walker said.
Last year, 81 inmates delivered babies while incarcerated. Pregnant offenders housed in county jails routinely are sent to the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.
After delivery, the mother can bond with the baby as long as the mother is in the hospital, Walker said. Once the offender is discharged from the hospital to return to prison, the individual designated by the inmate in her “baby plan” to be the caretaker will come to the hospital and take custody of the child.
Fifty pregnant offenders are housed in the state prison system now, Walker said.
Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com