“The national focus on criminal justice reform provides
a great opportunity to raise the profile on this issue with the
public and policymakers,” says Micah Haskell-Hoehl, APA
senior policy associate. “People who didn’t know about the
practice can’t believe it still happens.”
By putting a spotlight on the issue, psychologists also hope
to illuminate the importance of better understanding and
addressing the needs of female inmates in general, says Amalia
Corby-Edwards, an APA senior legislative and federal affairs
“We are using [shackling] as a wedge to open up a larger
conversation about gender-responsive justice systems more
generally and to help us consider what psychology can do to
encourage better health and mental health care practices for
women in the criminal justice system,” she says.
Why is it happening?
Restraining pregnant inmates is a result of prisons and jails
failing to update existing policies to accommodate women, who
now make up about 10 percent of the prison population, says
University of Minnesota assistant professor Rebecca Shlafer,
PhD, who is studying the mental and physical outcomes of a
support program for pregnant inmates in Minnesota.
Better understanding of the issue also has been hobbled
by a lack of data, she and others say. The federal government
does not require prisons or jails to collect data on pregnancy
and childbirth among female inmates. As a consequence,
data are incomplete, uncoordinated or nonexistent. At the
same time, the issue is gaining public traction due to rising
female incarceration rates, greater knowledge about the effects
of incarceration on children and families, and the unique
considerations of incarcerated women.
The evidence that does exist suggests incarcerated women
are not getting the care and treatment they need. Danielle
Dallaire, PhD, of the College of William and Mary, who heads a
healthy nutrition program for pregnant and postpartum women
in several Virginia jails, first heard about the shackling issue
from incarcerated pregnant women there. In an unpublished
survey, she found that a third of women who gave birth while
incarcerated reported being restrained during delivery.
Dallaire also found that the women who were shackled were
significantly less likely to initiate breastfeeding after the child