Pregnant Prisoners Face Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Wisdom, Erin, St. Joseph News-Press
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures even prisoners have certain protections, including one against cruel and unusual punishment. Yet in 33 states today, female prisoners are subject to a practice that seems a pretty precise picture of that kind of punishment: Being shackled while in labor.
An article in The New York Times tells the story of Shawanna Nelson, an Arkansas woman who was serving time for identity fraud and writing bad checks when she gave birth at age 30. She had a nearly 10-pound baby -- while weighing only about 100 pounds herself -- and suffered an injury that required surgery, as well as permanent damage to her sciatic nerve, due to going through labor largely immobilized and without anesthesia.
Shackling her -- a practice the American Medical Association describes as unsafe, medically hazardous and barbaric -- was deemed necessary despite the fact that there was an armed guard in her room.
'Any woman who has felt even one intense contraction knows that (a) laboring woman is anything but a flight risk,' Her.meneutics contributor Rachel Marie Stone writes concerning Nelson's case in an article published last month. 'Moreover, those who've given birth un- medicated also know that being able to move freely eases pain and prevents injury.'
The piece in The New York Times reports that about 5 percent of female prisoners arrive at prison pregnant. …