The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Barbarism in Prisons:
Women Shackled during Labor

Mar 13, 2006

Shawanna Nelson gave birth to her baby in an Arkansas prison in September 2003 without anesthesia and with her legs shackled together. As a result, Nelson suffered damage to her sciatic nerve and has lasting back pain. She is suing the prison authorities as well as the medical company that delivered the baby.

As horrible as it sounds, it is in fact common practice in U.S. prisons to shackle pregnant women during labor, even though it is well-known that this puts not only the mother but also the baby at risk of injury. About 5% of women inmates are pregnant when they enter prison, which means that about 2000 babies are born in U.S. prisons every year, most of them to shackled mothers. In fact, only two states, California and Illinois, have laws banning this utterly inhuman act.

That a woman in labor would run away is not only unlikely but physically impossible. So it’s not at all surprising that no such escape attempt is known to have ever been recorded. In fact, it is hard to find a logical reason for such a practice–except to punish a person. It is in fact one of the many common, everyday things prison authorities do to directly attack the inmates’ dignity and physical well-being.

This barbaric practice, by itself, is not only an indictment of the prison system but also the society that has produced it.