A pregnant woman in a Bronx holding cell last year began to go into labor, arriving at the hospital in handcuffs and shackles. Reports say she was extremely close to losing her unborn daughter.
New York law prevents shackling pregnant prisoners during labor and delivery, yet the officers accompanying the woman, only known as Jane Doe, shackled her anyways. They cited the department’s Patrol Guide that apparently called for her to be restrained. Doctors warned against this practice, stating it was dangerous for the woman and her baby and could restrict their ability to treat both.
After an hour of laboring with shackles and one arm cuffed to the bed, some of the restraints were removed. She delivered a nearly eight-pound baby.
The woman filed a lawsuit in December of 2018 against the police department, seeking damages for a violation of her civil rights and called for a change in policy to prevent pregnant women from ever being shackled again. She wanted to be kept anonymous because of the humiliation and degradation she felt during labor.
As of this past week, the city has agreed to pay the woman $610,000 to settle the claim that she was treated inhumanely and that it violated state law. The city has denied any wrongdoing, but the police department is revising the Patrol Guide procedures for handling pregnant women.
The now 28-year-old woman is ready for reform. “No woman should ever have to go through the traumatic experience that I went through,” she said.
Deputy Commissioner Phillip Walzak, a department spokesperson, said that the manual would be reviewed to address safety and medical concerns. The process of shackling women is legal across most of the United States, yet more and more lawmakers are becoming aware of the dangers as doctors come forward with a list of risks and problems. Last year, Congress banned shackling pregnant women in federal prisons, and 27 states have created or expanded laws to limit the use of shackles on pregnant women. New York has some of the most expansive laws in the country against shackling, prohibiting their use during transport any time throughout the pregnancy and for several weeks after birth. Almost, but not all of the laws, make exceptions for women who are flight risks or a threat to herself or others.
Despite these laws, almost no states have created commissions to go back and check on whether or not the policies are being enforced.
Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an obstetrician and gynecologist at John Hopkins Medicine believes the change in policy is a good step in acknowledging there are places outside of jail where women might need to have restraints. Even so, Sufrin believes there needs to be extensive training.
The woman who filed the lawsuit is still struggling with nightmares and her fear of the police. She doesn’t have any plans to tell her family or her daughter how she was born. “That’s a private moment, and that should be a moment where a mother should be happy and safe to give birth to her child and not go through what I went through where it wasn’t safe at all,” she said.