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Let me paint a picture for you.

A woman is giving birth to her child. While this should be a wonderful moment in her life, she’s shackled to a hospitable bed. She wears a “belly-chain” that chains her wrists to her hips and ties her legs together. Doctors, who insist she be freed for her safety, have a difficult time easing her pain with an epidural.

This horrifying scenario is the reality for dozens of pregnant women staying at Milwaukee County Jail.

A federal lawsuit filed last week claims that over 40 women at Milwaukee County Jail have been shackled while giving birth.

I was appalled to read this news. The image of a mother-to-be bringing her child into the world while chained to a hospital bed breaks my heart. Under these circumstances, childbirth is nothing short of trauma.

This is a new low for our justice system. Not only is this practice dehumanizing, it’s dangerous to the health of the mother and her newborn child. Shackling makes it difficult for doctors to administer necessary care to the mother, and women can suffer cramps and intense pain if unable to move during childbirth. A fall from shackling could even induce a miscarriage.

The fact that Milwaukee County Jail is submitting pregnant women to this treatment is unforgivable. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, including inmates.

Despite how demeaning this practice is, only ten states prohibit shackling. The practice isn’t even logistically necessary – most women behind bars are non-violent offenders who pose no security risk. So why is this violation of human rights still going on in our community?

You don’t have to look far to find the answer. Let’s not forget that this is the same jail under which a newborn baby died due to guards’ negligence. The same jail where a mentally ill man died from severe dehydration, whose cries for help were ignored by guards. In a six-month period, Milwaukee County Jail was responsible for four deaths.
The long and short of it is that those in charge of Milwaukee County Jail have little respect for the people they’re charged with protecting.

Do you need to be reminded of who’s ultimately responsible for all this death and abuse? That’s right – Sheriff David Clarke. While he’s been gallivanting around the country sucking up to Donald Trump, people in his jail have been suffering and dying. It seems that David Clarke cares more about advancing his career than performing the job he’s been elected to do.

Currently, Milwaukee County Jail’s policy mandates that inmates be shackled for all medical procedures despite the fact that the Wisconsin DOC and Federal Prison Bureau no longer require the practice of childbirth shackling. States that banned the practice have not reported any increase in escape attempts or threats to staff.

This situation is a no-brainer. We need to stop shackling pregnant women. Now, I’m a legislator of action. As soon as I heard this story, I started the ball rolling to get legislation out to end the shackling of pregnant women. I am making this issue a priority of mine this session.

Violations of our human rights can’t be tolerated. I don’t care if you’re an inmate, a child, or my next-door neighbor. I will stand for your dignity and advocate your humanity. That’s a promise.

Written by State Sen. Lena Taylor

State Sen. Lena Taylor

Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor represents the 4th State Senate District in Milwaukee.

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