2015-12-24 / News

Shackles Prohibited on Pregnant Prisoners During Transport

Lillian Browne

DELHI - On Tuesday, Dec. 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation which prohibits the restraint or shackling of pregnant prisoners during transport, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. While Delaware County does not typically house many pregnant prisoners at its county jail - perhaps just one or two per year, Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond said that not one New York state sheriff was consulted or asked for input about the implications of the new rule prior to its implementation.

“The bottom line is that everyone agrees - including the sheriffs - that it is a travesty to have pregnant females within our county jails,” DuMond said. DuMond said his department work closely with prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts to deal with pregnant women who are accused or a crime or who are awaiting sentence or sentenced to be dealt with in a community setting, rather than jail, if possible. In most cases, he said, that is in the best interests of the mother and the child.

“Sheriffs have an outstanding track record in administering common sense along with sound security practices in dealing with these situations,” DuMond said. “It is unfortunate that the sheriff, who is ultimately responsible for the safety and security of all prisoners, has lost his ability to make these determinations. After all, the ultimate accountability lies with him and the people who elect him into office. If they are unhappy with his performance their voice is the change agent.”

Prior to Dec. 22, corrections’ law prohibited the use of restraints on an inmate who was about to give birth. However, it did not address the use of restraints on pregnant inmates prior to or after childbirth or pregnancy outcome.

Restraints were allowed to be used on pregnant inmates in a number of situations ranging from trips to weekly medical appointments, to trips between prisons, which can take more than 10 hours. That, according to a press release issued by the Governor’s office, posed tremendous health risks to both the mother and child. It also heightened the risk of blood clots and limited mobility needed for a safe pregnancy and delivery, and increased the risk of falling, which could cause a miscarriage.

In addition to the shackling provision, the recently signed bill also prohibits the presence of any correctional staff in the delivery room unless requested by medical staff or the inmate giving birth. The bill also requires that correction staff receive more rigorous training on this policy and institutes annual detailed reporting of all instances in which officers deem restraints necessary.

The Delaware County Jail currently houses one early stage pregnancy inmate.

DuMond said that the new rule “ties the hands of the Sheriff,” in instances where the use of the restraints may have been warranted. “However, we will comply accordingly,” he said.

The law, DuMond said, also creates another unfunded mandate for all counties, as all transports and hospitalizations will now require two officers for enhanced security as well as the additional reporting requirements tied to the rule.

Of the new rule, Cuomo said, “These common sense reforms strike the right balance that protect the health and dignity of a pregnant inmate, while also addressing public safety concerns. This legislation has made New York’s criminal justice system fairer and stronger.”

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