Shackling and Pregnancy Care Policies in US Prisons and Jails

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Objectives: The number of incarcerated women in the United States has risen exponentially. Many are of childbearing age with 3-4% being pregnant at intake. Despite the need for comprehensive pregnancy-related health care in prisons and jails, there is no oversight that requires adherence to the established standards. The objective of this study was to assess prison and jail pregnancy policies and practices with an emphasis on restraint use and compliance with anti-shackling legislation.

Methods: We conducted a survey of 22 state prisons and six jails, including the five largest jails, from 2016–2017 regarding pregnancy policies and practices including restraint use, prenatal care, delivery and birth, and other pregnancy accommodations. We compared reported restraint policies to state legislation at the time of the survey.

Results: Data indicate that pregnancy policies and services in prisons and jails vary and compliance inconsistencies with anti-shackling legislation exist. A third of the prisons and half of the jails did not have accredited health care services. All study facilities provided prenatal vitamins and most provided supplemental snacks. Most facilities stationed an officer inside the hospital room during labor and delivery, but nearly one-third of facilities did not require a female-identifying officer.

Conclusions for practice: Limited oversight and standardization of carceral health care and accommodations for pregnant people lead to variability in prisons and jails. Prisons and jails should adopt and implement standards of care guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of pregnant people who have unique healthcare needs. Incarcerated pregnant people should be viewed as expectant parents in need of comprehensive health care, rather than as criminals who forfeited their right to a safe, respectful, and humane childbirth.