Friday, September 28, 2012
By Karen Shain, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Finally! After three years and countless petitions, letters, phone calls, votes, revotes, and two vetoes, Governor Brown has signed AB 2530, a bill that bans the most egregious forms of shackling of pregnant women in California’s state prisons, juvenile detention facilities and county jails.
At last! We have an answer for the pregnant women who write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) about having to wear chains around their bellies while going to court, about being shackled around their ankles while waiting to see a doctor, about standing in countless lines waiting to get on countless buses while handcuffed behind their backs: you are right. This is illegal. You should not be restrained in these ways if you are incarcerated in California.
I can’t wait to visit pregnant women at California Institution for Women (CIW) or one of our 58 county jails. We can rejoice together that this long, long battle has been won!
The coalition conference calls are going to change. No longer will we be talking about designing the next petition or support letter or legislative alert. No more legislative visits, searching for an author, co-author, supporter. No more tracking down potential opposition to make sure they are still neutral or (hopefully) in support of our bill.
This is clearly a time for celebration! And because the work took so long, there are so many of us who get to celebrate. The thousands of letter writers, hundreds of organizational supporters, dozens of organizational sponsors—we did it! Assembly Members Nancy Skinner, Toni Atkins, Holly Mitchell—you stepped up at the right time and we will always remember you.
And then, after all the celebrating, after all the thank you notes, after the tears of joy and slaps on our collective backs…then we have to get to work.
Because I have learned one really important lesson over the past decade that I have been doing legislative policy work—a good bill is only as good as its implementation. It took over five years for California’s counties to begin writing policies to conform to state law banning shackling of women during labor, delivery and recovery (see LSPC’s report, Stop Shackling). We must not allow county sheriffs, juvenile probation officers or state prison officials to wait five more years before shackling becomes only a memory in our state.
As of January 1, 2013, this is what the new law will be: NO PREGNANT WOMAN in California’s prisons, youth authority, county jails or juvenile detention facilities can be shackled around the belly, around the ankles or handcuffed behind the back DURING THEIR ENTIRE PREGNANCY. And once a woman is in labor, delivery or recovery…OR IF A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL ORDERS IT…they cannot be restrained at all, provided that there is not a pressing security issue.
At our office, we are starting right now to find out what pregnant women who are jailed in California are facing. Come January, when the new law goes into effect, we will begin the work of implementation. And we need the help of every incarcerated pregnant woman in our state as well as every family member…you are the ones who know what is happening. We ask everyone who is released from a woman’s prison or jail to let us know if you witness violations of the new law.
It took a lot of people to get this legislation passed. It will take at least as many to get it implemented. Let us not lose a minute. It’s now in all our hands to STOP SHACKLING PREGNANT WOMEN!
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you hear of or see any violations to the new law.