(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A report out Tuesday on county jail implementation of a state law regulating how and when pregnant inmates can be shackled finds almost two-thirds of counties are not in full compliance.

The report by San Francisco’s Legal Services for Prisoners with Children found that 21 California counties have updated their policies to fully comply with a state law that took effect last year restricting how pregnant women can be restrained. An additional 32 counties were in partial compliance with the law. Two were entirely noncompliant and three counties did not respond to LSPC informal and formal information requests.

“We see it as very promising that dozens of counties have already taken steps to comply with this law,” LSPC Policy Director Jesse Stout told KQED’s Tara Siler. “But we still see a need for more work, since there are still dozens of counties that have compliance issues that do not fully follow these very basic health and safety protections for pregnant women.”

The law bans restraining pregnant inmates with leg irons, waist chains or handcuffs behind the body. Incarcerated pregnant women are more likely to experience miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, pre-term birth and low birth weight, compared with pregnant women who are not behind bars, according to the report. It lists restraints that interfere with an expecting mother’s ability to move, increasing the likelihood of these complications.

The law also says pregnant women should only be restrained in other ways — such as handcuffed in front of their bodies — and only if absolutely necessary to safeguard prison staff, other inmates or the public. The law gives medical professionals final authority to remove restraints from a pregnant inmate.

The statute also requires pregnant prisoners to be advised of these rights. At least 26 counties are not notifying pregnant prisoners, according to the LSPC survey.

A statement from the Board of State and Community Corrections says regulators are concerned with helping counties implement the state law, but the board is also questioning the survey’s methodology.

“It’s important to note that the report cites no evidence that women are being shackled contrary to law,” the statement says. “The question it raises concerns whether counties are compliant in developing written policies and are notifying inmates of those policies.”

The board is charged with developing more detailed standards for restraining pregnant inmates. That process will begin in fall 2014.


Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a criminal justice reporter at KQED. He covers policing policy, crime and the courts.

He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at City College of San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Alex freelanced for various news outlets including the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Bay Guardian.

Alex is proud of his work at KQED on a spike in fatal officer-involved shootings in Vallejo, which uncovered that a single officer shot and killed three suspects over the course of five months. Alex's work with a team at KQED on police encounters with people in psychiatric crisis was cited in amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. He received the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Best Scoop award in 2015 for exposing a series of bigoted text messages swapped by San Francisco police officers. He was honored with 2010 San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and California Newspaper Publishers Association awards for breaking news reporting on the trial following the shooting of Oscar Grant. Email: aemslie@kqed.org. Twitter: @SFNewsReporter.

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