The restraint of pregnant inmates, especially those in labor while in prison, is the subject of new regulations.
Virginia state regulators are considering new guidelines that would limit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. The full extent of the controversial practice in the commonwealth may never be known by the public if a group representing law enforcement officers in the state has its way.
Tiarra Fain was eight months pregnant in 2010 when she was jailed for forgery at the Rappahannock Regional Jail, where she remained shackled while in labor. That case has outraged many who say that Virginia needs to treat its pregnant inmates better.
"Not only is it extremely uncomfortable, it's very hard for women to labor appropriately," says Kelly Garcia, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center. "You want women to be able to walk around and move and have freedom. It also impedes the access that the doctors and medical providers have."
Earlier this month, the Virginia Board of Corrections approved draft regulations that would create new statewide guidelines for when and how restraints can be used on pregnant inmates. Those draft regulations are now open for public review and comment, and they still need to be approved by the attorney general and governor.
But the Virginia State Legislature may weigh in during the upcoming legislative session. State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) plans to support legislationnext year that would accomplish the same goal.
"All we are asking is for law enforcement officers is to use discretion for each inmate," says Hope. "And if they do have to use more restraints, then all they need to do is document the reasons why."
Officials differ on whether that documentation should be open to the public, however. Some, including Hope, say the documents should be made public. But Law enforcement officials are ready to oppose any effort to share documents outlining where and when restraints are used on pregnant inmates, says Virginia Sheriffs Association president Beth Arthur.
"We are against it, because you are now putting all of our security information out there for the public to see," says Arthur.
Virginia has a long history of withholding law enforcement documents from the public, even to victims of crime and their families.
That fight will resume yet again in the upcoming session, when Hope will push for sheriffs to publically document when and how they use restraints on pregnant inmates.