Shackling bill gets House nod


After undergoing minor amendments to gain the support of the Department of Corrections, the “shackling bill,” SB 193, has been approved by the House and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

SB 193, which was approved by the Senate on May 5, was prompted by an investigation and Feb. 18 article by Boulder Weekly Editor Pamela White about the shackling of inmates during labor and delivery. White has also been involved in drafting and lobbying for the bill.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday morning on a 10-1 vote, with Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, being the lone vote against it. That afternoon the bill was taken onto the House floor, where it passed second reading on a voice vote.

On Tuesday, the bill passed third reading in the House with 62 votes in favor and Waller again being the only representative to oppose the measure. That afternoon, it was sent back to the Senate for re-adoption due to amendments passed by the House. The Senate again voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

SB 193 bans the use of belly belts and ankle shackles on pregnant inmates at all public and private facilities across the state. It also bans the use of any restraints on an inmate when she is in labor or giving birth, except in rare occasions when the inmate presents an immediate danger to herself or others or is a significant flight risk. The bill also permits an inmate to have a member of the medical staff present when she is strip-searched upon her return to prison or jail.

The Department of Corrections (DOC), which was initially neutral on the bill, proposed amendments late in the process, asking House sponsor Claire Levy, D-Boulder, last week to cut language banning the use of shackles during the inmate’s transport to and from the medical facility and permitting inmates to remain unshackled during the immediate postpartum recovery period.

DOC also requested that wording about not causing inmates “unnecessary pain or discomfort” be deleted, arguing that it would set a standard that would enable frivolous lawsuits.

Levy met with DOC officials and proponents of the bill on May 7, hammered out a compromise on the contested language, and gained support for the bill from the DOC.

The new version would allow correctional officers to use restraints during transport to and from the medical center and during postpartum recovery, but the restraints must be the least restrictive necessary — and may not be shackles or waist restraints.

The amended legislation, which was sponsored in the Senate by Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, still requires inmates to be notified of their rights under the bill.

“I wasn’t thrilled with the amendments, but refusing to compromise would have put the bill at risk,” White says. “As it is, this bill represents a new approach to the way pregnant and laboring inmates are treated in Colorado, and I couldn’t be happier. I have to give credit to Sen. Hudak and Rep. Levy for working so hard to gain consensus and push this through despite the late date.”

Joanie Shoemaker, deputy director of corrections, told Boulder Weekly that the DOC’s concerns about having inmates unshackled during transportation and postpartum recovery revolved around providing enough security during a period when there is a high risk of flight.

“Transportation is always a concern, because that’s our most vulnerable time,” she says.

As for notifying inmates of their rights and the DOC’s processes, Shoemaker says that can be a security issue as well, because an inmate can plan an escape more easily if she knows exactly when she’ll be unshackled, for instance.

She pledges that the DOC would not abuse the exceptions listed in the bill for when women may be shackled during labor and delivery.

“Our intent is to honor the legislative intent of this bill and not restrain during labor and delivery,” Shoemaker says. “We’re going to have an exception now and then, but it will be pretty rare.”