Students Fight to Outlaw Shackling of Pregnant Inmates in New Jersey

PISCATAWAY, NJ—On October 28, volunteers from the Mountain View Project Student Organization (MVP-SO), hosted a demonstration to educate Rutgers students on the dangers of pregnant inmates being shackled before childbirth, during labor, and immediately after childbirth.

During this six-hour demonstration, students wore shackles and costumes to appear pregnant, read narratives from women who have experienced being shackled while pregnant, and collected signatures for petitions that called for the eradication of this practice in New Jersey.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), shackling is defined as "any combination of handcuffs, leg irons, chains over the shoulders and belly chains used to confine or restrict the movements of an inmate."

Currently, nearly two-thirds of county jails shackle pregnant women in ways that could cause miscarriages or other injuries, according to the ACOG website.

Although this is practiced in multiple states, MVP-SO is focusing specifically on New Jersey, according to MVP-SO President Yamiesha Bell.

"I feel and I hope that the only reason this is still going on in New Jersey is because people are unaware of it. It’s inhumane. It breaks international law. It violates the US Constitution," Bell said.

"There are multiple obstetricians and gynecologists, like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that denounce the practice due to multiple health risks. So, not only is this inhumane, not only is it breaking the law, but it also creates health risks to the mother and the baby," Bell continued.

According to the ACOG website, "Health risks associated with shackling include increased likelihood of falls, trauma and limited access for treatment during medical emergencies,"

"Similarly, minor forces may be sufficient to shear the placental attachments and increase the risk of a placental abruption after blunt abdominal trauma."

New Jersey Senate Bill S-221 would prohibit the restraint of prisoners during and immediately after childbirth, and has been referred to the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, but has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing.

The primary sponsor of the bill is Senator Diane Allen, and one of Middlesex County's Senators, Joseph Vitale, is a co-sponsor on the bill. 

Senator Donald Norcross, Chair of the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, has the authority to decide whether the bill will get a hearing.

MVP-SO organizers encourage people to contact Norcross' office at (856) 547-4800 and encourage him to move the bill.   Supporters can also write to legislators throughout the State encouraging them to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

To find contact information for any representative in the New Jersey legislature, visit the New Jersey Legislative website.

Mountain View Project Student Organization (MVP-SO) was created from the Mountain View Program, a program that helps people who were once incarcerated purse an education at Rutgers and provides them with support services that reduce the likeliness of recidivism.

MVP-SO is a student organization that works with at-risk youth to prevent the instance of incarceration, educate the Rutgers student body on social justice issues related to imprisonment, and go into prisons to provide tutoring.

For more information on MVP-SO, interested parties can attend their meetings every Monday at 8:30pm in Meeting Room C of the Douglass Student Center, or email [email protected].