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Senator Vitale

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale prohibiting correctional facilities from placing restraints on inmates during or immediately after childbirth gained final legislative approval.

“To physically restrain any woman immediately before, during or after the critical time of active child labor is entirely inhumane, not to mention recklessly dangerous for both the mother and child,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Incarcerated women are no less human than others, and this unsafe practice must be prohibited in New Jersey. “

The bill, S-221, would prohibit the restraint of women prisoners during and immediately after childbirth. Under the bill, correctional facility staff or medical providers would not be permitted to apply restraints to a female prisoner known to be pregnant during any stage of labor, any pregnancy related medical distress, transport to a medical facility, delivery, or postpartum.

Restraints would be allowed if a supervising employee or medical provider makes an individualized determination that: the prisoner presents a substantial flight risk, or some other extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that the prisoner must be restrained to ensure the safety and security of the incarcerated person, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other incarcerated persons, or the public.

“You would be hard-pressed to find an obstetrician who thinks that tying a woman down, handcuffing her to a bed or restraining her while giving birth is good for the mother or good for the child,” said Senator Vitale. “Not only does it restrict a woman’s ability to necessarily move during the natural birthing process to facilitate delivery or better manage her pain, but it also inhibits doctors from performing their duties of safely delivering babies.”

In cases when restraints are permitted, the bill would require that the least restrictive type and application of restraint necessary would be used. The bill would also require that any prisoner restrained in such a manner be attended at all times by an employee of the facility or a medical provider with the ability to release the restraints if medically necessary. The bill also specifies that it would never be permissible to use leg and waist restraints on a prisoner who is in labor.

According to a July 2014 New York Times article, an estimated 2,000 women give birth to babies each year while incarcerated, including in 2011 a Nevada woman who suffered severe injuries when corrections staff shackled her ankles together while she was in labor and then again minutes after her child was delivered through an emergency cesarean section. Over the past 15 years 21 states have enacted legislation prohibiting the restraint of inmates during labor.

The bill cleared the Senate with a vote of 39-0 and the Assembly with a vote of 75-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.