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Bill bans restraints on pregnant inmates

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A Senate bill banning the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during childbirth has cleared two key House committees.

Senate Bill 219, sponsored by Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kane­ohe), was unanimously advanced Friday during a joint hearing of the House Health and Public and Military Affairs committees.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote.

The state takes pregnant women, when practical, to hospitals for childbirth. During transport from prison to  hospital, hand and leg restraints are used to stop them from escaping.

According to data available for the first 11 months of 2010, Hawaii prisons had 50 pregnant inmates, 12 of whom gave birth in that time period, said Debo­rah Stanford of the Healthcare Division of the state Department of Public Safety.

The bill would ban the use of physical restraints when the women are in labor and during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Amendments by House Health Chairman Ryan Yamane (D, Wai­pahu-Mililani) would also extend the ban to women in their second trimester and in postpartum recovery.

When questioned by lawmakers, department spokes­man Thomas Read said he was not aware of any specific cases in which restraints were used on pregnant inmates, though he was unable to deny its practice.

The majority of testimony came from supporters of the measure, who said restraining pregnant inmates during labor is “barbaric” and possibly a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“This is cruel and unusual punishment,” Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons, told lawmakers Friday.

The Department of Public Safety opposed the bill, telling lawmakers it would rather amend current policy by taking into account an inmate’s security level.

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