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Bill would end shackling of prisoners in labor

Jeannamarie Grave, 34, of Patchogue recalls being shackled to a bed as she had twins by Caesarean section nearly seven years ago - depriving her of holding her children moments after they were delivered.

"It was horrible," said Grave, who was serving a sentence of 3 years to life on a drug conviction when she had the twins in 2002. "It's bad enough to have a kid in jail, but to not be able to touch your kid is worse."

Grave joins dozens of formerly incarcerated pregnant women and advocates in celebrating the likely passage of a state bill that outlaws the use of heavy shackles and handcuffs on women in labor and immediately after delivery.

Gov. David A. Paterson said last week that he planned to sign the bill, which has passed in the state Senate and Assembly.

"We're thrilled he will take a stand to end this inhumane and punitive policy," said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York. "It will be a great day for everybody who cares about women's rights and human rights in general."

The bill, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrats Assemb. Nick Perry and Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, "prohibits the use of restraints of any kind from being used during the transport of such female prisoner to a hospital for the purpose of giving birth, unless such prisoner is a substantial flight risk."

Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said Paterson was still considering some provisions of the bill, such as the rare circumstances when a woman may be shackled, and that he'd sign it into law once those issues are addressed.

"I don't think anybody that's ever been pregnant has tried to escape," Grave said. "And who wants another seven years in prison anyway?"

Department of Correctional Services spokesman Erik Kriss said he joins the governor in supporting the bill, but said the department already has a policy of not shackling prisoners in labor.

"Generally, our practice and procedure has been to minimally restrain any pregnant inmate," he said. As many as 43 women gave birth in prison last year - none of whom were shackled or handcuffed, he said.

But advocates like Tina Reynolds, founder of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory, an association of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, said that may be true, but that the policy is not universally applied.

"I think that right now, the bill being signed will eliminate these practices," said Reynolds, of Brooklyn, who was shackled when she gave birth in prison 15 years ago. "It's not the best because ideally, we would like women who are pregnant not to be shackled and handcuffed at all."

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