March 20, 2019

Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Chairman and members of the committee:

My name is Marc Hyden, and I am Georgia resident and the Director of State Government Affairs for the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government in many areas, including prison reform, and that is why H.B. 345 is of special interest to us.

To date, only 22 states, the District of Columbia,[1]  and the federal government have some form of law prohibiting the unnecessary shackling of incarcerated women during labor, child birth and the postpartum period. Georgia is not among those states, but it should be.[2]

While the American prison population has long been predominantly male, the number of incarcerated females has surged and is expected to continue growing. A large portion of these women are housed in prisons because of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. In many ways, prisoner treatment has not evolved with shifting demographics. Thus, many states have uniform policies that require or permit shackling, which also apply to pregnant prisoners. This is no small problem. Upwards of 10 percent of women are pregnant at the time of their incarceration.[3]

The effects of such a policy are damaging and needless. While shackling is used to prevent escapes and safeguard corrections officers, medical workers and fellow inmates, few, if any, women can be considered a serious flight risk during delivery. Rather, this policy risks causing serious harm. As they walk to and from medical care, pregnant women in shackles are more likely to fall and injure themselves and their baby. Beyond this, such restraints can hinder medical workers’ abilities to provide the care that these women need, and can cause increased agony during child birth.[4]

Inmates forfeit many of their rights and privileges, and to a degree, this is inevitable. However, unless there is a legitimate threat, I believe we should respect the sanctity of bringing life into this world and should allow incarcerated women a shred of dignity during child birth. Thus, it is critical that the Legislature pass H.B. 345.

Thank you for your time,

Marc Hyden

Director, State Government Affairs

The R Street Institute

(404) 918-2731

mhyden@rstreet.org


[1]Ferszt, Ginette G., et al, “Where Does Your State Stand on Shackling of Pregnant Incarcerated Women?,” Nursing for Women’s Health, Feb. 2018: https://nwhjournal.org/article/S1751-4851(17)30335-5/pdf.

[2] Collins, Doug, H.R. 5682, First Step Act, 115th Congress: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5682/text.

[3] Clarke, Jennifer and Simon, Rachel, Shackling and Separation: Motherhood in Prison, AMA Journal of Ethics, Sept. 2013: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/shackling-and-separation-motherhood-prison/2013-09.

[4] Clarke, Jennifer and Simon, Rachel, Shackling and Separation: Motherhood in Prison, AMA Journal of Ethics, Sept. 2013: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/shackling-and-separation-motherhood-prison/2013-09.