By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Women’s History Month is an opportunity to elevate the many women who have worked for change, equity, and recognition of the contributions of women from around the world. There is a global effort to ensure that systems, organizations, and communities are free of bias and gender-based stereotypes and discrimination. No exceptions.
International observances highlighted the advances, continued struggles, and devastating setbacks of women’s rights. While we are inspired by gains in employment, leadership roles, and increased representation, we know that the fight to secure equitable treatment, resources, and respect for women and girls remain a necessity.
It is with this understanding, that I recently joined State Representatives Jodi Emerson and Lisa Subeck, the members of FREE, and community activists to introduce the Wisconsin Dignity for Incarcerated Women & Girls Act.
Over the years, I have offered proposals to stop the practice of shackling pregnant women, during transport, labor and delivery. I’ve advocated for doulas and postpartum care, as well. Yet, I remain concerned about the, at times, have been shocked to learn of the barbaric conditions that incarcerated women and girls have faced.
Currently, there is no statutory guidance on how Wisconsin correctional facilities restrain pregnant women. This is out of step with correctional policies nationwide. Shackling is widely regarded by government agencies, human rights advocacy groups, and nursing organizations as both an assault on human dignity and an unsafe medical practice.
Wisconsin lags behind, the U.S. Marshal Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in which the 2018 First Step Act barred the use of restraints on pregnant people in their custody. Some 37 states have passed policies that restrict the practice of shackling pregnant women, as well. This directly impact the estimated 58,000 pregnant women and girls who annually pass through U.S. prisons and jails.
As an example, a 2011 lawsuit alleged that, roughly 40 women from a single Wisconsin correctional facility were shackled while giving birth, preventing the necessary medical care from being provided. In one case, a woman was shackled and handcuffed during 21 hours of labor. This practice not only threatens the safety of the mother, but it also poses a risk of serious harm to the fetus, including the potential for miscarriage.
The existence of such a dangerous practice represents a gross indifference to the medical needs of women. Gender centered and appropriate care must be extended to everyone, regardless of where they may be. Justice impacted and incarcerated women are no exception.