It's about time. With two strong Republicans at the helm on this, we might actually see it pass the legislature this year. This shows, by the way, that some things done by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office actually can be reined in by proper legislative oversight - not everyone has to wring their hands and whine about being powerless in the face of the man abusing people. Thanks to Representative Cecil Ash and Senator Linda Gray for being willing to take this on.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes Arizona will join 14 other states in limiting how and when jails can shackle pregnant women.
Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to push legislation for the past two years. But this year, the effort may see some success. Republicans are sponsoring bills in both the House and Senate. And for the first time, the issue has been granted a hearing.
The Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee will hear Senate Bill 1184 Wednesday morning. Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, is both the committee’s chairwoman and the bill’s primary sponsor, giving it a strong chance of passing at least the committee.
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, is sponsoring a similar House Bill 2528.
The Senate bill would ban any state or county correctional institution from using restraints on a prisoner or detainee in her final trimester of pregnancy or during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery unless medical staff request the restraints or a corrections officer determines that the situation “presents an extraordinary circumstance” such as being a substantial flight risk. It would ban leg or waist restraints in all circumstances during labor or delivery.
“This practice is not just dangerous to the mother but it’s also dangerous to the baby being born,” ACLU of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham said. “If you’ve had a baby or been in the labor room with a woman, you know their biggest priority is having that baby. They are not going to jump off the bed and take off.”
The proposed legislation would most impact county jails. The Arizona Department of Corrections instituted restrictions on shackling women in labor or postpartum recovery in 2003. The Federal Bureau of Prisons restricted it in 2008.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has some concerns with the Senate bill, Deputy Chief Ray Churay said.
“We’re not super opposed to this,” Churay said. “There are just some adjustments we would ask for.”
He said some of the bill’s definitions are too vague. They’d like to see the bill require that a medical professional determine whether a woman is in labor, and they want Gray to clarify the definition of postpartum recovery so it does not ban law enforcement from shackling a woman who must remain in the hospital following her child’s birth for reasons unrelated to the delivery.
Churay said the county already does not routinely use leg or waist restraints on pregnant women. But he said the bill could impact a common practice of using a leg tether to lock the women to their hospital bed during postpartum recovery. He said the tether is long enough to allow a woman to walk to the bathroom and around the room.
“They are in a situation where security is very, very limited,” Churay said of inmates in the hospital. “We’ve never had a complaint about the leg tether from hospital staff or from an inmate. We have to take all precautions, and we believe the tether is necessary.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is facing a federal lawsuit over the shackling issue. Miriam Mendiola-Martinez filed a lawsuit in December alleging that county employees exhibited deliberate indifference to her medical needs and violated her constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment when she was shackled before and after her Caesarean section.