In her hospital room, Bailey recalled, she was unshackled so that she could undress, and then cuffed by her ankle to her hospital bed. They removed the restraint six hours later, but only after a doctor asked. Bailey was just about to give birth.
“I felt like an animal,” she said. “Where was I going to go?”
Bailey’s account is the kind that has prompted Maryland state lawmakers to consider banning the use of restraints on inmates who are more than four months pregnant. About 1,100 pregnant women have been incarcerated in state facilities during the past 3½ years. For more than a decade, the agency has sought to provide medical services for pregnant inmates at detention centers to minimize the need for off-site travel.
Referred to as the “anti-shackling” bill in Annapolis, proposed legislation seeks to codify what generally is the practice at state prisons. But bill supporters say it also would ensure uniform regulations for county jails, such as the facility in Harford County where Bailey was an inmate last year.
“We have policies that limit the use, but we don’t have a position as a state that it’s not our policy to shackle or restrain pregnant women,” said Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore), the legislation’s sponsor. “It should be our position that we don’t do it.”
Officials at Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) have not taken a position on the proposal, which is now before the House Judiciary Committee.
But officials said their policy — prohibiting restraints on pregnant inmates unless “absolutely” necessary — is sufficient. Agency spokesman Mark Vernarelli wrote in an e-mail that the policy is “one of the best, if not the best in the country.”
The proposal has prompted opposition from some prison officials and corrections officers. Mary Lou McDonough, director of the Prince George’s Department of Corrections, said decisions about what is needed to adequately guard an inmate — pregnant or otherwise — should be left up to the guards.
“I don’t want to give up that control,” McDonough said. “Unfortunately, some pregnant detainees can be violent . . . We feel we need to make that decision on whether they need to be detained or not.”
As a general rule, McDonough said, pregnant inmates in Prince George’s are not restrained “during active labor and delivery.” However, a handcuff often is used when pregnant inmates are transported. “Medical appointments and hospital visits are the number one time when escapes are attempted,” she said. “We need to be able to use our judgment.”
Eighteen states — including Arizona, Texas and New York — have passed anti-shackling legislation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the proposal. A total of 33 members of the House of Delegates have sponsored the legislation. Although Washington said she has heard expressions of support from the Senate side of the General Assembly, no senator has proposed a similar measure.