Report: Dallas County Jail Still Shackling Those Oh-So-Dangerous Women in Labor

When the contractions start, the restrictions end. In theory, anyway.
When the contractions start, the restrictions end. In theory, anyway.

Chief Uterus Correspondent Anna Merlan is on assignment.

I know Anna usually handles the lady stuff, but if it's OK with you guys, I'm going to dispense some quick advice to the Female Friends of Unfair Park: If you gals have any plans to commit a felony that may cause you a longer-than-40-week stay in your local jail -- I mean, even an inkling that you might get fed up with the hubby's Fantasy Football obsession and wind up in a lengthy negligent homicide trial -- do not, under any circumstances, go and get yourself knocked up beforehand. Because according to a new report, the Dallas County Jail still doesn't quite have a handle on how to handle its most pregnant guests.

The report , which you'll find below, was published late last month by the ACLU of Texas and the nonprofit Texas Jail Project. It comes two years after lawmakers took up the cause of protecting pregnant inmates in the state's county jails -- who number about 500 at any given time. In two laws that took effect September 1, 2009, the legislature banned jail staff from restraining women in labor or delivery, and required prisons to write and implement procedures for caring for pregnant prisoners.

To see how jails were adapting to the new laws, activists conducted interviews and visited the state's largest county jails. They discovered varying degrees of compliance. In El Paso, jail officials have distributed fact sheets and conducted workshops to train deputies how to recognize labor (She's screaming and I don't see a shiv: Must be baby time!), and how to handle recovery. At other jails, the activists found, officials are failing to even regularly screen inmates for pregnancy, and are waiting too long to get the women seen by obstetricians. While El Paso County jail makes sure its pregnant prisoners get 4,000 calories a day -- more than the other inmates -- other jails take no measures to make sure pregnant women are getting the nutrition they need.

When it comes to shackling, the law has worked for the most part, the report claims. The ban "seems to have eliminated or at least suppressed the most horrific uses of restraints on women and delivery." That included "the practice of shackling together the legs of pregnant inmates," which is really a bad situation for everyone involved, including the shackles.

But Dallas stands out to the activists for its apparent dismissal of the ban. The Texas Jail Project continues to receive reports of inmates being restrained during labor, and jail officials admitted to interviewers that they still apply restraints "during transportation to the hospital and immediately after delivery," which is illegal.

Dallas County Sheriff's department officials did not return calls for comment. But activists' frustration seems to lie mostly with the state's Commission on Jail Standards.

Dallas "had some of the bigger red flags on the ways they handled some of this stuff," ACLU policy strategist Matthew Simpson told Unfair Park. "In order to ensure that everybody, including Dallas, is following these rules, the Commission on Jail Standards needs to make a requirement that jails document the use of shackles on pregnant women."

But hey, you're thinking, why would they document something that's illegal? And would they document with photos? Because that's kinda gross.

Well, there are exceptions to the no shackling rule. Jailers can restrain a woman in delivery if they believe it will protect mother or child. And, of course, they can still break out the shackles if there's a "substantial risk" of escape.

Although, let's be honest: If you can't catch an escaping prisoner who has a baby falling out of her, you should probably consider a career change.

ACLU/Texas Jail Project Report On Shackling Law Implementation

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