Labor in Chains: The Shackling of Pregnant Inmates

  • Lauryn King The George Washington University


In the United States, incarcerated pregnant women are often shackled by correctional officers. Despite being prohibited during labor and delivery at the federal level, and in 22 states and the District of Columbia, perinatal shackling remains standard operating procedure in most correctional facilities. A number of factors contribute to the continuation of this practice even in jurisdictions where it is illegal, including poor implementation of laws banning shackling, lack of training for individual correctional officers, and perpetration of stereotypes about what makes a “good” or “bad” mother. This article reviews the history of the practice of shackling pregnant inmates, assesses the current state of affairs of this practice, examines the arguments for and against perinatal shackling, and analyzes the presumptions that allow it to continue. It then explores several alternatives to shackling along with prospects for change.

Author Biography

Lauryn King, The George Washington University
LAURYN KING is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate focusing on the intersectional impacts of social policies related to reproduction and fertility. She graduated from the George Washington University with a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Sociology in 2015. She currently works at the GW Institute for Public Policy, helping research professors administer their sponsored projects and will begin a PhD in Public Policy and Public Administration at the Trachtenberg School in the fall.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The author would like to thank Marissa Esthimer, Jessica Burnell, Dr. William Adams, and the Policy Perspectives team for their guidance. She would also like to thank Dr. Fran Buntman and her classmates in SOC 6262 for all of their feedback and camaraderie. Last, but certainly not least, the author would like to thank her parents Bill and Sharon and her sister Brittany for their never-ending love, support, and patience through her academic pursuits.