Pregnant female prisoners – even those in the midst of labor – must suffer the indignity and discomfort of mandatorily being shackled and handcuffed by San Diego County Sheriffs, according to a recent Voice of San Diego news article.
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2013 legislative bill implemented specific law to prohibit such restraints. The SD Sheriff’s Department, however, chooses to interpret the phrase, “…unless deemed necessary for the safety and security of the inmate, the staff, or the public,” as effectively meaning at all times, according to a recent Voice of San Diego article.
“To start out as routine – a standard that everybody’s going to be shackled until we decide we don’t need to – is wrong,” said Carol Strickman, an attorney working with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “I’m really disappointed to hear this.
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We know a lot of times the counties’ policies are in compliance, but we can’t really speak to what their practice is,” added Strickman.
The Sheriff’s Department rejected a recommendation to change the wording in its “Pregnant Patient’s Rights” from “You will be chained and handcuffed during labor and delivery,” to “A pregnant inmate in labor, during delivery, or in recovery after delivery shall not be restrained by the wrists, ankles, or both, unless. …”
“The statement as it currently reads is an accurate statement,” wrote Lt. David Gilmore in his rejection letter dated March 26.
“All inmates start off minimally restrained (one wrist to the bed or something similar) while they are in the hospital,” said Lt. Karen Stubkjaer, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department.
Stubkjaer further stated that restraints may be removed upon request of the attending physician, or whenever law enforcement personnel can determine that the pregnant inmate poses no threat whatsoever, but neither scenario is likely to ever happen.
According to Stubkjaer, 54 women incarcerated at the county jail have successfully given birth in San Diego County Jail over the last three years. She said her department doesn’t keep track of how restraints were used in those cases, however, because that’s a medical record confidentiality issue.
“Restraints should be used only in cases in which there is a compelling threat to safety or security,” said Senator Toni Atkins, president pro tem of the California state senate and author of the 2013 bill.
Atkins said she finds San Diego’s automatic use of restraints troubling, and she intends to discuss these shackling procedures with Sheriff Bill Gore.
Jail staff are required by law to inform pregnant inmates of their right not to be shackled unless they pose a safety risk. In San Diego, the women are instead being told they will be required to wear restraints.
“It needs to be communicated – the actual law,” said Strickman. “Not their illegal procedure.”
Strickman said her organization had previously believed San Diego’s policies had been in compliance with state law, but now she is fully aware of their extreme interpretation of the law’s phrasing.
Restraints are supposed to be the exception, not the norm, she said.