Bill makes sense for pregnant inmates

Sen. Karen Fraser has introduced a common-sense bill in the state Legislature to prevent corrections officers from putting pregnant inmates in leg irons or other restraints during labor or in the final months of their pregnancy.

Common sense says an inmate in labor is not a grave security risk. And shackling women in their third trimester to prevent an escape seems cruel and totally unacceptable.

The Legislature should pass Fraser’s legislation — Senate Bill 6500.

The Democrat from Thurston County is right in this case when she says, “Agencies don’t want us to put policies into statute, but I think it’s necessary to have policies in law because, over time, personnel change and managers change. My goal is to have clear policies in place to ensure the safe and humane treatment of women prisoners who are giving birth.”

Under Fraser’s bill, a jailed pregnant woman or youth cannot be restrained if the inmate is in her third trimester, is being transported to or from visits to medical providers or court proceedings, or is in labor, is in the process of delivering her baby, or is in postpartum recovery.

The new law would apply to women or youths incarcerated in a prison, juvenile facility, city or county jail.

Fraser’s bill says during an inmate’s first or second trimester of pregnancy, restraints may be used but only in extraordinary circumstances — to prevent an incarcerated pregnant woman or youth from escaping or to prevent her from injuring herself or staff. The restraints used must be the least restrictive available, and leg irons or waist chains cannot be used.

The law also requires that pregnant women in custody must be informed of their rights regarding restraints.

While corrections officials say they don’t overuse shackles and other restraints on pregnant women, it’s appropriate to set in law a prohibition against restraints for female prisoners in labor. That way there’s no room for interpretation of agency policy.