Iowa Senate revives legislation restricting shackles on pregnant inmates

Published: January 28 2014 | 6:50 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:48 am in

Iowa lawmakers remained concerned about the practice of restraining or shackling pregnant women, and a bill limiting such action has surfaced again in the Senate.

The issue was extensively debated last year without making it to the floor of either the House or Senate, and its future remains uncertain as opposition remains among law enforcement groups.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who chaired the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, said she is reviving the bill because she believes it's an important discussion even if there's a chance it could fail.

“I truly believe Iowans should know how we’re treating Iowans who are incarcerated,” Petersen said.

Senate File 2019 would include county jails, prisons and other detention facilities in the state. The bill would limit correctional institutions from shackling or restraining pregnant inmates during labor, delivery or post-partum recovery. An officer could determine the use of restraint on a pregnant inmate if there is a significant flight risk.

The issue arose following newspaper articles published about pregnant women who had been shackled near the point they were due and soon after delivery.  Last year the Department of Corrections came out with a revised policy that restricts restraining pregnant female patients after 22 weeks of pregnancy through giving birth.

Several law enforcement organizations and correctional representatives largely oppose the bill, insisting any efforts to restrain pregnant inmates are not often used and only when there is a safety or flight risk.

“We’re not sure there is a problem you’re trying to solve,” said Susan Cameron, lobbyist for the Sheriffs and Deputies Association.

Sheryl Dahm, a lobbyist with the Iowa Department of Corrections, said she believes pregnant inmates are treated with dignity at state correctional facilities and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where inmates are often sent to deliver. She said in 2013, 13 babies were delivered in Iowa prisons and none of the inmates were restrained.

The state’s restraint policy for pregnant inmates is confidential for security reasons, Dahm said, but the policy is already similar to the bill “and we don’t believe policies should be written into law.”

Bill supporters, including Marty Ryan, lobbyist for the Justice Reform Consortium, argue it’s a matter of “public decency” and medical safety.

“If you haven’t done anything wrong, why do you have a problem with it?” Ryan said.

Chairwoman of the House Human Resources Committee Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf said she doesn’t plan to take up the legislation if it should make it to the House and the problem has been solved without the Legislature taking action.

“You don’t need to pass a bill to solve every problem,” Miller said when asked last week.

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