Michigan DOC Eases Up on Pregnant Prisoners, Limits Shackles and Solitary Confinement
by Chuck Sharman
Under a new policy announced on October 19, 2021, pregnant prisoners held by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MIDOC) will be restrained less and will also have more time to spend with their newborns once delivered.
When it takes effect November 22, 2021, the policy change will largely reflect procedures already put in place by MIDOC after a bill was sponsored by state Sen. Erika Greiss (D-Taylor) in 2020 to address concerns that infants were being plucked from their mothers’ arms moments after birth.
“It’s the saddest thing that I have not only heard of, but been through,” said Siwatru-Salama Ra, who gave birth while locked up in 2018 at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHVCF), the state’s only prison for women.
Nine babies have been delivered to WHVCF prisoners in 2021, with two more still expecting, according to MIDOC spokesman Chris Gautz.
The new policy doesn’t promise a new mother 72 hours with her infant, as Greiss’s bill would have guaranteed had it not stalled before reaching a vote in the legislature. But it does say that MIDOC “shall not restrict the prisoner’s contact with the newborn while in their assigned patient room subject to hospital protocols.”
There are exceptions to the policy for mothers with a history of child abuse or neglect, as well as those whose contact with their children has been limited by Child Protective Services. Wardens also have the authority to approve exceptions to the rule.
Other provisions of the policy include:
• a ban on the use of restraints during labor;
• a one-hour limit on the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners, restricted to front-clasping handcuffs during transport;
• a guarantee that pregnant prisoners can pump breast milk;
• another guarantee that they can also work with health care staff and a doula to develop a birth plan;
• new limits on the use of segregation for pregnant prisoners; and
• new staff training in managing pregnant and post-partum prisoners.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said she was proud of the work that MIDOC Director Heidi Washington and Greiss put into developing the new policy.
“Every pregnant Michigander deserves access to a safe birth, critical maternal healthcare, and essential post-partum supports,” the governor added.
Greiss, who called the new policy “an important first step,” has reintroduced another bill that died in 2020 to create an advisory board to provide oversight to WHCVF.
It is a sad commentary on the American police state that caging pregnant women, having them give birth while imprisoned, taking their children away shortly thereafter, limiting the solitary confinement of pregnant prisoners, is all somehow viewed as a progressive reform. Of course, as rules, these do not have the effect of law and confer no enforceable rights on the prisoners, they can be ignored or rescinded as prison officials see fit.
Source: Detroit Free Press