Using International Human Rights Mechanisms to Stop the Shackling of Incarcerated Pregnant Women in the United States
Penal Reform International
September 12, 2013
When LaDonna Hopkins went into labor in an Illinois prison, she was placed in handcuffs, a chain was strapped across her stomach to which her handcuffs were linked, and leg irons were locked onto her ankles. When she arrived at the hospital to give birth to her child, she was met by hospital staff with looks of disgust and hidden away in an isolated room for her delivery. In her testimony to the Illinois House of Representatives, LaDonna described her experience of giving birth as demoralising, uncomfortable and frightening. The shackling of incarcerated pregnant women such as LaDonna is a human rights violation that occurs regularly in the United States.
The International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, in partnership with the ACLU National Prison Project and Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) recently submitted a "shadow" report on the practice of shackling in the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the Committee). The report represents the views of a community of lawyers, practitioners and activists working to eliminate the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners in the United States. In this sense, it is part of a larger effort to build both a national and international coalition towards the same end.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR), the United States must submit reports to the Committee every five years describing its compliance with the treaty. The Committee will question representatives from the United States in October about the most recent report it submitted. In reviewing past reports from the United States, the Committee expressed concern about ‘the shackling of detained women during childbirth’. In fact, in 2006 the Committee recommended that the United States ‘prohibit the shackling of detained women during childbirth’. More recently, in March 2013, the Committee requested further clarification as to whether the United States intends to "prohibit the shackling of detained pregnant women during transport, labor, delivery and post-delivery, under all circumstances."