COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban jails and prisons from using leg, waist and ankle restraints on pregnant women while they give birth.
The House passed the bill last year, and a Senate subcommittee took it up on Tuesday, media outlets reported.
South Carolina is among only six states that don’t ban shackling pregnant inmates, according to testimony at the hearing.
“I think this is a shock that we continue to shackle pregnant women,” Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian of Columbia said.
The law would also require pregnant inmates to only be handcuffed in front so they can try to brace themselves if they fall.
Only a handful of the nearly 1,400 women in state prisons are pregnant, officials said.
But the ban would also include local jails, which because of shorter jail sentences and inmates awaiting trial are more likely to have pregnant prisoners.
The bill was approved and sent to the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, where state Sen. Mia McLeod said she will propose several changes including banning body cavity searches of pregnant inmates, allowing inmates time out of restraints to have skin-on-skin bonding with a newborn and offering pregnant women special diets so their nutrition needs are met.
“It’s really hard to think about having to put this in statue and writing,” the Columbia Democrat said. “These are just basic human rights.”
South Carolina prisons instituted a policy in early 2019 to stop restraining pregnant inmates. But testimony at the hearing showed that doesn’t always happen.
Medical student Rachel Hartman said while working with inmates at Camille Graham Correctional Institution last year she saw inmates restrained at the wrist and ankle give birth.
“The birth was an incredible experience, and I should have been happy to be in that room,” Hartman said. “The indignity of her situation was not lost on me.”
The staff at the prison knew the no-shackle policy and followed it, but the policy was “not communicated properly” with prison employees who were with the inmate at a Columbia hospital, prison spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.
When a new officer arrived for a shift change who knew the policy, the restraints were moved, Shain said.