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Shackling isn’t about safety. It’s about punishing those deemed unfit and undesirable for exercising the choice to become mothers.

To be a woman in this society is to be vulnerable physically, financially, and politically. 33 percent of women have been the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. Hundreds of thousands of women are positioned to lose access to birth control without a copayment after the Trump administration rolled back an Obamacare regulation that required employers to provide birth control in their health insurance plans. Additionally, women in jails are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States. This rapid growth is linked to trauma, sexual violence, and mental health issues. Of the over 200,000 women in jail or prison, around 6 percent are pregnant while incarcerated. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws against shackling pregnant incarcerated women, but this inhumane practice still takes place in these states because of nonspecific language about shackling pregnant women during transportation to medical facilities and first, second, and third trimesters. Essentially, pregnant women are being illegally restrained, and it’s difficult and often dangerous for these women to speak up for themselves. Often times, these women have already grown accustomed to maltreatment and abuse of power from prison employees.

Most women in prison are the victims of abuse and suffer from mental health issues–inhumane prison conditions aren’t helping.

By Andie Park Earlier this month, Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren publicly introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a landmark bill to improve living conditions for female inmates who are also the primary caretakers of their families. Some of the provisions of the bill address fairly straightforward and common-sense needs such as creating better access to feminine hygiene products and expanding visitation policies for the families of inmates. Other provisions, however, reveal a more horrifying system of abuse in federal facilities for women. Until the introduction of this bill, the shackling of pregnant inmates was still legal. In federal facilities, several women sacrifice the decision to make a phone call to family members in order to buy box a tampons from their commissary – or vice versa – due to the exorbitant costs tied to each choice. The alarmingly vast lack of protections stems from the institutional inability to include women in legal discussions for reform. Whether it be solitary confinement or going into childbirth while shackled, these actions were still technically legal mainly because legislative measures never accounted for the difference of struggles between female and male inmates. Ultimately, the bill is a push for the Bureau of Prisons to confront its own gender bias and make concentrated efforts to not only protect female inmates but also restore a semblance of human dignity during their incarceration.

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