Shackling Pregnant Women Is Dangerous and Often Illegal, Yet Still Happens to Women Behind Bars
Incarceration is no picnic for anyone, but women incarcerated in America’s prisons and jails face unique challenges. From not being paid enough to afford menstrual supplies from prison commissaries to being placed in solitary confinement for being trans, incarcerated women contend with significant abuse on top of the pains of detention. And a new article illuminates that, despite legal protections against the practice, some incarcerated women still face shackling during pregnancy or delivery — at tremendous risk of bodily harm.
Legally, in the context of pregnancy, “shackling” includes the use of handcuffs around the wrists, shackles around the waist, locking a patient to a hospital bed or gurney, and placing chains around the abdomen.
According to the New York Times, a woman is suing the New York Police Department over claims that police officers shackled her to a hospital bed while she was in labor. The woman, who has filed the lawsuit anonymously, was 40 weeks pregnant last February when she was held in a Bronx police cell and went into labor. After arriving to the hospital and in the face of the protestations of doctors, officers allegedly handcuffed her wrists and shackled her ankles, trapping her on the bed.
The woman’s doctors at Montefiore Medical Center reportedly told the police officers that shackling the woman posed a serious risk, and advised the officers that it is illegal to shackle pregnant women in New York. Nonetheless, the lawsuit alleges that the police officers kept the woman restrained, leaving her traumatized, humiliated, and fearful, according to the Times.
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the NYPD Law Department, told the Times that the agency was “examining these allegations very carefully.”
The practice of shackling women in labor is discouraged or prohibited in 25 states and has been utterly condemned by mainstream medical professionals.
The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in 2010 that supports a ban on shackling pregnant women in labor, with an AMA representative calling the practice “dehumanizing” and not in keeping with the values of the medical profession. Also in 2010, the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare released a position statement on the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women, writing that “restraint is potentially harmful to the expectant mother and fetus, especially in the third trimester as well as during labor and delivery,” and that “restraint of pregnant inmates during labor and delivery should not be used.”
In addition to being a severe risk to the health, or even life, of the mother and the fetus, being shackled while pregnant and in labor is also psychologically traumatizing, as the woman who is suing the NYPD noted in her suit. The American Psychological Association advocates against the use of shackling for pregnant incarcerated people, noting in 2016 that “these risks are being taken with a population that has a higher-than-average rate of mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse.”
According to lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, the practice is entirely unnecessary and inhumane. “Shackling is almost never necessary. There’s been no documented case where a woman has been in labor and hopped off the bed and fled the hospital,” Amy Fettig, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, tells Brit + Co. “Women can’t give birth like this.”
Fettig tells us that there’s currently no way to know exactly how often pregnant women are shackled, even in cases when it is against state laws, as it is in New York. Law enforcement officers have no incentive to call themselves out for breaking the law and endangering lives. Victims also are reluctant to report the violation.
“Women who this has happened to are afraid to come forward,” Fettig explains. “They often feel ashamed and don’t want their child to know that they were born this way.”
Available data suggests the practice may be very common. A September 2014 report from the Correctional Association of New York, a non-profit criminal justice reform organization, found that 23 of 27 women surveyed, who had been incarcerated while pregnant, reported being cuffed or shackled during their pregnancy, labor, or immediately after giving birth, as reported by the New York Times that year.
Additionally, three women who had been detained by ICE told BuzzFeed News in August that they had been shackled around their stomachs while pregnant, in addition to a litany of other alarming complaints about inadequate pregnancy care.
The ACLU is still working to end the practice altogether. Fettig tells us that along with a push to pass state legislation where it doesn’t exist, the ACLU also advocates for federal legislation, which has been introduced a number of times but never passed. She also says that education is important for both incarcerated people and doctors who work with them. Doctors may be afraid to advocate for their patients’ rights when confronted with law enforcement officers who seek to enact harmful behavior, and incarcerated people may not even be aware that it is illegal for them to be shackled. Informing doctors and patients of their rights can at least put knowledge in the hands of those who are confronted with this dehumanizing and potentially life-threatening scenario.
Fettig also emphasizes the importance of educating the general public about this practice, since many are unaware it still goes on and are typically horrified to learn of its existence.
“[A vast majority of prisons] are tax-payer funded institutions,” Fettig says, adding, “This is our government doing things that none of us would condone. Who would stand for their sister being shackled while she’s giving birth?”
Ultimately, there is no justification for the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women, Fettig says. “It is reflective of how women are treated in the criminal justice system in general… It’s about misogyny and control and degradation.”
What do you think? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty Images)
This Jewelry Designer Infuses ‘90s Hip Hop, Caribbean Spice + Vibrant Hues into Everything She Makes
This Jewelry Designer Infuses '90s Hip Hop, Caribbean Spice + Vibrant Hues into Everything She Makes
Vibrant hues, '90s-era boldness, and raw artisanal beauty — these are just a few of the characteristics that make the work of today's creative crush truly swoonworthy. Named for a potent Caribbean pepper, Tracey-Renee Hubbard's Scotchbonnet is a gorgeous line of earrings and accessories made by hand with love, thoughtfulness and a resolute passion for the art of making.
Anjelika Temple here, co-founder of Brit + Co and super fan of Scotchbonnet! Like so many creative connections these days, I first connected with designer Tracey-Renee when she DM'ed the @britandco IG account and we featured her work in a story roundup of BIPOC makers. A few weeks later, she applied and won a scholarship to our first session of the Selfmade program where Brit and I both had the privilege of mentoring and working with Tracey-Renee on her brand, her business plan, and her mission. Since then she's been awarded a minority creative grant from JOANN Fabrics, and seriously upleveled her production process thanks to a collaboration with Glowforge. (PS: B+C readers can get 20% off their own Glowforge Pro by clicking here!)
Now I am thrilled to be able to share more about this brilliant maker's journey, inspiration and creative process in this edition of Creative Crushin'.
Anjelika Temple: Before we get into learning all about your creative inspiration, tell us a little about your background.
Tracey-Renee Hubbard: I was born and raised in Wisconsin. Yep, lots of cheese and cows. Growing up in Wisconsin right outside of Milwaukee provided me with a surprisingly diverse and eclectic foundation. My parents stressed the importance of academics, but they didn't believe that excelling at school needed to come at the expense of creativity or other hobbies. Art, music, books and softball were a big chunk of my childhood. Crafting and creating have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
One of my favorite shows to watch when I was growing up was "A Different World." It was about the college experience at a fictitious HBCU (Historically Black College/University) called Hillman College. Watching that show inspired me to go to Florida A&M University (an HBCU) where I received a BS in Business Management and an MBA.
The world changes quickly and I love learning new things! After completing my MBA program, I studied graphic design, multimedia art and completed the Merchandise Product Development program at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in San Francisco. My academic and professional experiences have given me the opportunity to live and work in lots of interesting places; but for now I am based in the San Francisco Bay area.
Anj: Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional artist/creative?
Tracey-Renee: Yep, but for a long time I was afraid to do it because of the "starving artist" stigma (all lies, btw). I tried to compartmentalize my creative practices as just a "hobby", but when something is truly in your spirit the desire never really goes away…and so now here I am!
Anj: What do you love about making things? What keeps the spark going for you?
Tracey-Renee: I've been inspired to create for as long as I can remember! I've always been fascinated by color, texture, travel and cultural connection. I grew up watching my grandmother quilt, sew and mend garments, I saw my Mom create beautiful home décor and heirloom holiday decorations and spent time in my Dad's workshop. Being surrounded by unique handmade items that hold special stories has fueled my passion for being a designer and maker.
Anj: Like so many artists, you've got a day job in addition to your creative hustle. Tell us about your career path.
Tracey-Renee: My first "real job" was in pharmaceutical sales and marketing. I loved the left brain/right brain mix of processing all the data and scientific information and then finding creative ways to relay that information to doctors and health care providers. That role really opened my eyes to the power of messaging and visual communication tools which ultimately led to me returning to school to study digital design and multimedia arts. I've had fun using my marketing and digital design skills in several different industries. I currently work as the Director of Marketing and Creative Strategy for a candy company. I spend a lot of time working in the digital realm – I think most of us do- and that makes me really appreciate the time I spend making handmade jewelry for Scotchbonnet.
Anj: Tell me more about your brand Scotchbonnet! How would you describe your brand's mission?
Tracey-Renee: I want to make pieces that are cherished - special but not so "precious" that they sit in a box stored away for special occasions that are far and few between. My accessories are known for their bold shapes, bright colors and eye-catching patterns. Each piece is handmade with love (I hope my customers can feel it when they wear their Scotchbonnet accessories)!
Scotchbonnet jewelry has been described as "conversation starters" and I love the fact that they connect people and get them to start conversing. I am excited about elevating those conversations by creating capsule collections connected to social causes; that way the chat can go beyond just "cute earrings, where'd you get them?"
Anj: At Brit + Co, we are enamored with bright colors, patterns and geometric shapes -- and clearly, you are too! How did you hone in on your aesthetic?
Tracey-Renee: I chose the name Scotchbonnet for my jewelry brand because scotch bonnet peppers add a distinctively potent spice to Caribbean food and I feel that my jewelry has the same vibe. My accessories are known for vibrant hues, bold shapes and eye-catching patterns. I am inspired by the flashiness of 90s hip-hop, the simplicity of modern luxury, and the raw beauty of artisan goods from the African Diaspora. My aesthetic continues to evolve based on the things I love, the places I've been and the community I want to serve.
Anj: We LOVED mentoring you + helping your business grow during our first Selfmade session. What were your main takeaways from the program and experience?
Tracey-Renee: Selfmade helped me understand the importance of having a clear vision and trusting my intuition. It can be inspirational watching other entrepreneurs "hustling and winning" on their social media feeds, but without clarity about my vision that "inspiration" can be overwhelming and make things confusing. It's easy to confuse movement with progress – Selfmade helped me craft an action plan that ensures each step builds momentum and accelerates me toward my goals. Selfmade also provided me with a vibrant, uplifting community of founders, entrepreneurs and go-getters.
Anj: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
Tracey-Renee: I take a break. We're inundated with "hustle culture" that can make us feel guilty for taking a break, but at the end of the day we're of no value to anyone when we're burnt out. When I have a creative block I usually log off for a while… there's this duality with the internet where on the surface it seems to be an endless pool of inspiration, but in reality everything that's on the internet has already been filtered or curated by someone else. Sometimes it's helpful to see things through a new lens and find inspiration in ("real" physical) books, at a museum or out in nature. Seeing things in a new light from a different angle can be a really refreshing creative jolt.
Anj: What does your workspace look like? What tools do you use and how has it changed over the years?
Tracey-Renee: I'd describe it as "choreographed chaos". It's organized enough so that I can be efficient with the administrative parts of my business like: inventory management, packing and shipping. It's creative enough so that it still feels inspiring, and it's tidy enough that it doesn't feel overwhelming to sit down and start working. It smells like coconut or tropical fruit (thanks to my candles) and it sounds like hip-hop, dance hall, soca or afrobeats.
The primary mediums I work with are wood, paint, glass beads and recently brass. With that being said my paint brushes, needle & thread and jeweler's saw are always within close reach. The most recent addition to my studio is my Glowforge Pro 3D laser printer; it is a game changer! It shrunk my product development cycle time infinitely. Prior to the Glowforge the process was time consuming and costly; now, I can literally "print" a new design within minutes of sketching out an idea. It's also been awesome when it comes to inventory management and sustainability. I no longer have to worry about over-producing or wasting materials; I can make exactly what I need right when I need it without any waste. The Glowforge can make millions of things and I'm excited about trying new design ideas in the future. I have a ton of sketches and inspo photos on my magnet board and in my notebooks waiting to be explored. (ICYMI: B+C readers can get 20% off their own Glowforge Pro by clicking here!)
Anj: What advice do you have for emerging artists and designers just getting started? What advice do you have for creatives struggling to find their unique voice?
Tracey-Renee: Start with your "why" and not your "what". Your "why" will be the secret weapon that competitors will never be able to touch. Once you have that part figured out; dive in! I think that now is a really exciting time for creatives. The rise of entrepreneurship powered by social media has removed a lot of barriers that used to make creative careers seem out of reach. Protect your work, but don't be afraid to put yourself (and your stuff!) out there. Connect with other artists and build a community, it's so important to have a sounding board for difficult times and a crew with whom you can celebrate your successes.
Anj: What's next for your brand?
Tracey-Renee: Scaling and growing in a way that feels authentic. I have new colors and new products coming soon and I am super excited about that! My upcoming premium capsule collections are close to my heart; designing jewelry inspired by social causes and having a "give back" component means the world to me. I want to keep having fun with my brand, sharing joy with fun colors and patterns and infusing love into each handmade piece.