Reproductive justice advocates—Sistersong, in particular—and community organizers pushed for more humane treatment of pregnant inmates in North Carolina and helped secure a recent policy change to that end in the state.

The News Observer reported that Prison Director Kenneth Lassiter signed a policy to end the use of leg or wrist restraints on women, who happen to also be inmates, while they give birth. Lassiter’s position requires that he supervise 55 state prisons with more than 36,000 inmates. With this policy change, officials should not handcuff or restrain the women during initial bonding with their newborns, during breastfeeding or other skin-to-skin contact. 

Sistersong played an integral role in applying pressure to prison officials, securing publicity on behalf of the women and conducting informational meetings that led to this victory. The women-of-color-led organization is based in the American South and is premised on building a network that improves reproductive policies and systems for marginalized communities.

After the organization learned of women who were shackled to their hospital beds, their members directed a letter to the Department of Public Safety. 

While this policy change demonstrates progress, officials can still handcuff pregnant women who are transported to the hospital for delivery if the women can protect themselves or their fetuses from a potential fall.

Several reports also explained that women who begin contractions generally should not be restrained under the new policy, but could be if they present “an immediate, credible risk of escape.”

Organizers will likely shift their efforts to Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina next, states that do not have official policies prohibiting the shackling of inmates during labor, as The Cut noted.

Jail and prison policies remain pressing issues for everyday people and the public servants who recognize how the disproportionate effects of imprisonment tend to compromise women’s lives and many communities of color.

Last year, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren jointly penned an op-ed explaining why they introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill geared toward addressing “the unjust conditions incarcerated women face,” by banning shackling and solitary confinement for women who are incarcerated, improving visitation policies for women who are primary caretakers and banning prisons from charging women for sanitary products. 

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