N.C. governor signs law that bans shackling of incarcerated pregnant women

If a CO feels that restraints are necessary, a written explanation must be submitted within 5 days of incident

By Danielle Battaglia
The News & Observer 
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Friday a bill that will add a layer of protection for incarcerated women who are pregnant.

House Bill 608 bans the use of handcuffs in most instances on pregnant women after they reach their second trimester. It also ensures that pregnant women and their babies have quality prenatal and postnatal care and that a baby is given time to bond with her mother at the prison or jail.

"This legislation takes important steps to protect women who are incarcerated during and after pregnancy and labor," Cooper said in a statement.

North Caroline Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at Guilford Technical Community College, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Jamestown, N.C.
North Caroline Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at Guilford Technical Community College, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Jamestown, N.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a written statement, "This victory belongs to the currently and formerly incarcerated people who have fought for this statewide change for many years while enduring cruel and dangerous conditions in our jails and prisons."

North Carolina now joins 34 other states that have banned shackling pregnant women in prison.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, a Guilford County Democrat, said she had been approached by advocates and heard "horror stories" about what was happening with pregnant women in the jail.

Then she went to tour a women's prison in Raleigh.

"Once I heard from some of the advocates and personal stories of some of the women, it was a no-brainer to start working on how we can better protect women and their unborn children who were incarcerated at the time that they're pregnant and giving birth," Clemmons said.

Clemmons, who has given birth to three children, said it was "shocking to the soul" to hear about women being secured to the bed by their legs and arms while giving birth.

House Bill 608 does not apply to women being transported outside of the jail, unless they are in labor and then only medical restraints can be used by a licensed healthcare provider.

If a correctional officer finds it necessary to handcuff a pregnant woman, once in her second trimester, for any reason the officer is required to submit within five days a written report on why it was necessary. The woman can only be handcuffed in front of her body.

According to a news release from Planned Parenthood, banning the use of restraints on pregnant women is important because the restraint can endanger the woman and her child, as well as make it difficult for healthcare officials to provide proper care.

The bill also prevents a correctional official from performing a body cavity search on a woman in her second trimester until she is six months postpartum unless there is probable cause that contraband is being hidden that could harm her, her child or another person.

Again, if that happens, the official would have to submit a written explanation within five days.

There are other requirements in House Bill 608 about the bed's height from the ground, how far a postpartum woman can be housed from her baby, when a male official can search women, cost of care and making sure she has access to educational training for her pregnancy and after becoming a mother.

But the bill doesn't just look out for pregnant women.

House Bill 608 also added a provision that if a woman is incarcerated that she has access to menstrual supplies.

Clemmons said currently women have to wait for someone to put money on their account so they can buy menstrual products from the commissary.

Clemmons worked with Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, and Rep. Kristin Baker, a Cabarrus County Republican, on the bill. She said it took 38 drafts before they could file the bill because they were working with the N.C. Department of Public Safety and each jail from the 100 counties.

Baker, Clemmons and Reps. Donna White, a Johnston County Republican, and Kyle Hall, a Rockingham County Republican, filed House Bill 608 in April and it quickly moved through the House before stalling out in the Senate until August.

It passed both chambers unanimously and made its way to Cooper's desk on Sept. 1.

Cooper held a bill signing ceremony in the Executive Mansion's garden Friday with the bill sponsors and others who advocated for the bill. It goes into effect on Dec. 1.

"I felt very grateful that I got to be part of this process," Clemmons said.
(c)2021 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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