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This Woman Was Shackled While Pregnant in Federal Prison. A New Bill Would Make Sure That Never Happens Again

Read the horrifying story of one woman who went through it.

Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ZUMA Press/NewscomAdolphe Pierre-Louis/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Shortly after arriving at a federal prison in Georgia in the early 2000s, Pamela discovered she was five to six weeks pregnant. No one told her the facility was designed for men, she says, and the staff hadn't been expecting any female inmates, much less a pregnant one. Inmates are often moved around in vans, and whenever Winn was transported she was shackled by the ankles and wrists. The wrist cuffs were in turn shackled to a chain that wrapped around her belly.

It was during one of these transports that Winn—who is only 5'1"—fell trying to climb into a van. "My wrists being secured to the belly chain on me, it was like a tree falling," Winn says. "There was no way for me to break my fall. I couldn't move or do anything but fall. From that point is when I started bleeding."

Winn says she sent numerous requests for medical treatment, but when the prison doctor finally examined her, she was told there was nothing they could do. "The doctor said she could order some prenatal vitamins for me, and I'm sitting there looking at her like, no, I need some help," Winn remembers. "I'm bleeding. A prenatal vitamin is not going to fix what's going on right now."

The prison had to get approval from the U.S. Marshals in order to transport Winn to a hospital. The turnaround time between request and approval was about four weeks. By the time Winn was sent to an emergency room, she says the hospital staff told her that, because the incident occured weeks ago, she would have to see an obstetrician. But of course that required another request to the U.S. Marshals and another four-week turnaround. And then another request and four-week turnaround for an ultrasound.

A fourth, follow-up appointment never occurred, because roughly around 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Winn miscarried.

Today, members of Congress introduced a bill that aims to make sure what happened to Winn never happens to anyone else. Cosponsored by a majority of Democratic and Republican women in the House, the bill would ban the shackling and solitary confinement of pregnant inmates in the federal prison system.

The Pregnant Women in Custody Act, introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D–Calif.), Mia Love (R–Utah) and Catherine Clark (D–Mass.), would ban the use of restraints and restrictive housing on female inmates during pregnancy, during labor, and post-partum. It would also set standards of care for pregnant female inmates.

"In the United States in 2018, the idea that we would actually shackle a pregnant women to a gurney while she is delivering a baby is really egregious," Bass says in an interview with Reason. "Of course, there is no policy that says a pregnant woman should be shackled to a gurney. There's a difference between policy and practice, and we know that this is a practice."

"As warriors of human dignity and human value, we have no higher responsibility than to care for a mother and her child," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.), said in a press release. "I would like to sincerely thank Congresswoman Mia Love for leading on this bill that will ensure pregnant women who are incarcerated are treated with compassion and care."

The federal Bureau of Prisons' current policy bans the shackling of female inmates in most instances, but there is no federal law against the practice. It's banned in all but six states now, but according to reports, the practice persists even where it's supposedly illegal.

The experience, as Winn describes it, is horrific. "During the miscarriage, to hear people trying to figure out if they should call 911 or call the Marshals, that's reinforcement to me that there should be some sort of protocols in place," Winn says. "At that point I was concerned if I was going to live, because I'm bleeding out and these people don't know even what to do with me."

"Once I got to the hospital, I'm shackled to the bed in excruciating pain," Winn continues. "I've got two male officers down between my legs that I don't know anything about. You're already experiencing a loss and then you have to be humiliated and embarrassed on top of that."

"The lowest part for me was when the nurse stated that I had already passed the baby and she needed all of the linen that I had bled on prior to me getting to the hospital," Winn says. "[The officers] told her that they had thrown it in the trash. Just to hear that my baby was thrown in the trash, and the tone of the officers—like that was what they really felt about it, that it was trash—it's really hard. It's hard to come back from something like that. It was trash to them, but it was my child. It was a life. It was a part of me. My crime was about some money, and I'm sitting up there thinking to myself, there's no amount of money or nothing that I could have taken or did wrong to justify throwing my baby in the trash and treating me like I am trash."

Women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S prison population. The female prison population has grown by 700 percent since 1980, but most prisons and prison services are geared toward men. In 2012, the ACLU estimated that about 12,000, or six percent, of the 200,000 female inmates in U.S. prisons and jails are pregnant at the time they're incarcerated.

Much of the growth in the female inmate population is happening in county jails, but research and public policy addressing "the precipitous rise in the number of women in jail" has lagged behind, a 2016 study by the Vera Institute reported.

Last year, a woman sued the Milwaukee County Jail for being subjected to repeated sexual assaults by a guard. She also said she was shackled while giving birth. The lawsuit alleged that at least 40 other women since 2011 had been forced to give birth while shackled to hospital beds. A jury awarded her $6.7 million. Another woman sued the Milwaukee County Jail again this August for being forced to give birth while shackled.

The bill also includes requirements for the federal government to collect data on the use of restraints and restrictive housing on any inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or recovering from childbirth.

"For too long our federal prison system has operated without a national standard of care for pregnant incarcerated women," Jessica Jackson Sloan, national director of #cut50, says in a statement to Reason. "As the number of incarcerated women skyrocketed, it is past time that we develop policies and procedures to ensure that our country treats them with dignity."

Winn says she was placed in solitary confinement, although the prison called it "medical observation" both prior to and after her miscarriage, by herself for 23 hours a day with no counseling or contact with her family.

"There's no one else to talk to, nobody else to share your pain and feelings with, no counseling, no nothing," Winn says. "Unless you're a very strong-minded person and can keep it together, you come out of there a lot worse than when you came in. Whatever sentence the judge gives you, that's not the sentence you serve. What you pay you can never get back. You lose so much of yourself, your dignity, your spirit, just you, the essence of who you are. It's not even quantitative what you lose in there."

When she was released, Winn wanted to take legal action against the prison, but was told the statute of limitations had passed. She is now organizing and advocating for a bill in Georgia that would introduce similar state reforms to treatment of female inmates.

"I think that's what's really driven me to do this work and to fight for these laws to be passed," Winn says. "The fact that they tell you there's nothing you can do. That just didn't sit well with my soul to know that someone can treat a person like this."

The new legislation, she says, is "very necessary, very much needed." It "addresses basically everything I experienced, as well as the things I've been fighting for since I returned home."

You can also watch Nicole Bennet, another formerly incarcerated woman, tell her story of delivering a child while shackled to a gurney here:

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  • MiloMinderbinder||

    The federal Bureau of Prisons' current policy bans the shackling of female inmates in most instances,

    Something, something.... equal protection.

  • chipper me timbers||

    My god, what a country. I'm assuming she was incarcerated for total bullshit as well.

  • Smb80@gmail.com||

    "Attorney General Baker also announced the indictment of Pamela Winn on 20 counts of health care fraud. Winn was a registered nurse who in May of 2000 enrolled in the Medicaid program as a provider of pre-natal and post-partum services. She operated her company, Silver Spoonz, out of her home in College Park. Ms. Winn billed Medicaid for over a quarter of a million dollars in services that she never provided to mothers and children enrolled in the Medicaid program"

    ooooh that is gonna complicate the narrative!

  • ||

    Oh shit! I thought it was a joke when Poppyseed posted it below. That's fucking HILARIOUS! (Not the dead baby. Dead baby jokes are never funny. The Reason magazine being almost satirically bad in it's investigation/reporting.)

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Was there really a baby tho

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

    This is Reason. The louder they cry about The Injustice Of It All, the more it behooves you check the fine print, where you'll usually find the ostensible victim got exactly what they deserved.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The federal Bureau of Prisons' current policy bans the shackling of female inmates in most instances, but there is no federal law against the practice. It's banned in all but six states now, but according to reports, the practice persists even where it's supposedly illegal.

    But this law will definitely put a stop to it.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    So really no need for a law. And the first time a pregnant/post pregnant woman beats a deputy or makes a run, you face a lawsuit. Just let the clowns deal with it locally as best they see fit, and throw in a method for some oversight in the extreme cases.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Pregnant Women in Custody Act, introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D–Calif.), Mia Love (R–Utah) and Catherine Clark (D–Mass.), would ban the use of restraints and restrictive housing on female inmates during pregnancy, during labor, and post-partum.

    Uh-huh. Ban it how? What would be the punishment for violating the ban?

  • ||

    Considering Pamela herself didn't know until 5-6 weeks after her arrest it does kinda raise some questions about guilty until proven innocent.

  • ||

    Also, are transwomen identifying as pregnant covered by the ban or no?

  • Hugh Akston||

    A call from your union rep telling you that you don't need to be there for the hearing.

  • Smb80@gmail.com||

    Jail and Prison are "restrictive housing" so...? How's that gonna work?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I still don't see how any of this deals with the four-week turnaround for necessary medical attention from someone more capable than suggesting a Flinstone's Vitamin for vaginal bleeding.

  • ||

    That's the real crime here. But this article isn't about actual payouts or logistics. It's about prison being, not even necessarily disproportionately to their crime, tough for women.

  • ||

    Women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S prison population. The female prison population has grown by 700 percent since 1980, but most prisons and prison services are geared toward men.

    Wow. Another 700% over the next 40 yrs. and they'll *almost* be where men are today! Except for the fact that they won't be legally able to shackle ~6% of them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Remember when prisoners didnt wear chains and were quickly driven to medical appointments without 4 week turn-arounds?

    Then prisoners started escaping and hurting people to get away.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Your link is broken.

  • Zeb||

    What?

  • ||

    If these were dumb hicks falling off the back of pickup trucks in AL, we'd just shrug and say "Evolution at work.", maybe quote Idiocracy and call it a day.

    But these women committed crimes and were duly convicted by a jury. So, suddenly life begins at conception and the risk of shackling them is worse than letting them drink alcohol.

    NPR, or the local affiliate, runs stories about men dying in prison of untreated medical conditions. Years-long waits for treatments that come too late, but women and pregnancy is somehow the greater issue.

    Pass another law to protect women being housed by a system we know is broken. Start a #PregnantLivesMatter campaign.

    How many logical disconnects do we have to point out?

  • ||

    So, Jordan Peterson, a self-avowed liberal mind you, has a Youtube talk where he points out the fact that a certain portion of the population by pretty much any metric is worse than cognitively dysfunctional. I can't recall if he says it but he effectively asserts that they literally aren't smart or productive enough to be canon fodder. The number he threw out was 10%. What he flat out says or the beginning of the topic he broaches is that you can't solve the problem without majorly violating their rights (or someone else's).

    When I hear in and out of the county and federal prison system since 18 and got pregnant a second time with someone else who was in the prison system and wanted to turn themselves around, I think it's great that they made that commitment, but it offers a glimmer of hope that the system works and that it in no way confers anything regarding (a change in) policy towards the rest of the 10%.

  • ||

    Ted Kaczynski and Tim McVeigh were varyingly conditioned by first the school system and post-secondary education or the military. There's no reason to assume that the past 150 yrs. of education hasn't taken people who would've otherwise been illiterate outlaws and murderers and teach them to read just well enough to articulate that they should be able to rob people and have a family.

    I certainly don't intend a full-throated agreement with Oliver Wendell Holmes, but there is a legitimate question about what are you going to do with three generations of imbeciles?

  • perlchpr||

    but there is a legitimate question about what are you going to do with three generations of imbeciles?

    Well, stopping paying them to breed more imbeciles sounds like a good start. I mean, sterilizing them isn't OK, but I don't feel that subsidizing them is necessary either.

  • ||

    Well, stopping paying them to breed more imbeciles sounds like a good start. I mean, sterilizing them isn't OK, but I don't feel that subsidizing them is necessary either.

    Sure. But what if paying to feed and house them they happen to get pregnant and fall down the stairs?

  • Poppyseed||

    A new law for only one purpose, optics. No one is harmed in any way by being shackled.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Kid, I admire your moxie for making such a bold comment after clearly not reading the article.

  • Poppyseed||

    Feel free to point out where I was wrong, fuckboy.

  • perlchpr||

    No one is harmed in any way by being shackled.

    Here. It was right here. That was where you were wrong, shitsmear.

    But I'm sure you'll just say I'm wrong, so, pre-emptively, go fuck yourself.

  • Poppyseed||

    And like the other cowardly shithead, you just said it and ran.

    Because you know I'm right, and you can't fucking stand it.

  • perlchpr||

    "Ran"?

    Uh, sure, buddy. "Said it and then watched several episodes of Battlestar Galactica" is more like it, but you go with your bad self.

    But fine, if I ran, then I'm back, cunt.

    What's your argument, it wasn't being shackled that hurt her, it was the falling without being able to catch herself? That's about as smart as "no one ever died from falling out of an airplane. It was the stopping falling that killed them."

    So, you shit gargling cum dumpster fire, again, go fuck yourself.

  • Hugh Akston||

    No one is harmed in any way by being shackled.

  • Poppyseed||

    I'm glad you came around to my side after I called you out for being a cowardly shithead in my reply to your sockpuppet.

  • perlchpr||

    Ah yes, the last resort of the utter moron. Accuse anyone who calls out your idiocy of socking.

    The hilarious part of this is anyone who has actually been here for more than the three hours you've been kicking around the site would know that Akston and I rarely agree on anything.

    Yob tvoyu mat, blyad.

  • Trips||

    I admire your ability to admire his moxie after you admit you didn't read the article.

  • Smb80@gmail.com||

    "Today, members of Congress introduced a bill that aims to make sure what happened to Winn never happens to anyone else. "

    They're repealing the law of gravity?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The prison had to get approval from the U.S. Marshals in order to transport Winn to a hospital. The turnaround time between request and approval was about four weeks. By the time Winn was sent to an emergency room, she says the hospital staff told her that, because the incident occured weeks ago, she would have to see an obstetrician. But of course that required another request to the U.S. Marshals and another four-week turnaround. And then another request and four-week turnaround for an ultrasound.

    Government is the four-week turnaround we sit through together.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If this system is this fucking broken, I'm sorry, but my cynical ass doesn't quite see how a new law will fix this.

  • Poppyseed||

    Especially when the problem is the turnaround, not the shackling.

  • ||

    Government is the four-week turnaround we sit through together.

    I don't know what Winn's crime is but I'm sure I've never sat next to her on a federal prison bus.

  • Poppyseed||

    She stole money intended for pregnant women.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I am confused. I thought the Reason party line was that 6 week pregnancies were only potential humans?

  • Michael S. Langston||

    What happened was objectively horrible, but the bill is worse.

    The problem here is society, thru elections and funding prioritiea, do not provide even basic medical services to inmates at all. There are easily hundreds of stories a day about poor prison medical treatment.

    And given women make up less than 15%of US prison population, I fail to see how only resolving issues with regards to pregnant inmates does anything other than incent inmates to become pregnant and further divide society by acting as if this is solely a woman's issue.

    It's just more proof that men are seen as expendable and besides, (sarc) they're convicts and likely deserve it (/sarc)

  • Rich||

    Today, members of Congress introduced a bill that aims to make sure what happened to Winn never happens to anyone else.

    A bill requiring women inmates to have abortions upon incarceration?!

  • lap83||

    I'm sorry she lost her baby, but this whole "special criminals deserve special treatment" idea that Reason peddles is bullshit. It's a perversion of justice to give someone a lighter sentence just because they're different in some way.

    Btw, it's not at all clear that her miscarriage happened as a result of the fall. It sounds like it happened a minimum of 8 weeks later.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Not only are most of the commenters at this site not libertarian, but many of them appear not to qualify as functional human beings.

    Yet they wonder why they wander inconsequentially at the disaffected fringes of our society.

  • lap83||

    "but many of them appear not to qualify as functional human beings."

    Your sense of compassion is just awe-inspiring

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Rev - given how little you understand and libertarians and libertarianism, your credibility of who is and who isn't is about as credible as my ability to watch a doctor perform transplant surgery and without knowing the end results, be able to credibly and accurately evaluate their performance.

  • BYODB||


    It sounds like it happened a minimum of 8 weeks later.

    I'm no doctor, but considering this is prison there's really no way to know if she had another inmate punch her in the stomach a few dozen times knowing full well that it would make a media spectacle that might even let her sign a book deal in prison.

    But no, I'm sure a trained nurse would have no idea how to take care of herself or induce a miscarriage.

    That's not to say that prisons and their treatment of inmates is bad, but rather that humane prison is in essence an oxymoron. It's a question of extent, I suppose, which is subjective in many cases.

    This particular case is not a good illustration of the reforms necessary in our broken justice system though. If Medicaid didn't exist, maybe this woman wouldn't be in jail. Maybe.

  • lap83||

    I considered that possibility too. Maybe it's too cynical, but it's no worse than assuming the opposite....that somehow the pregnancy hormones turned this convicted fraudster into a completely trustworthy person that would never take advantage of having reduced security for medical care?

  • BYODB||

    I don't want to come off as an asshole (in this particular case anyway) but the main takeaway point is that this is not a good case study for why our justice system is broken as fuck. Prisoners, as a group, are not reliable sources.

    I don't believe in treating them like animals, or really even the death penalty, but 'free and excellent healthcare' isn't at the top of the list of things that I think convicted convicts deserve.

    Rather, perhaps, we should focus on decriminalization and deregulation that causes people to end up there for victimless crimes.

  • BYODB||

    Question: If a female prisoner is pregnant, and holds the fetus hostage in an attempt to get released, should the Prison let her out or just consider this an abortion by cop?

  • lap83||

    A female prisoner is beyond reproach and would obviously never do such a thing.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Obviously not, but based upon having *different laws for different genders, society seems to believe women are lesser beings incapable of making their own decisions and due to 'patriarchy' they are seen as an oppressed group, resulting in idiotic and immoral laws carving out exceptions for these lesser beings.

    *Different laws such s enshrined as automatic prosecution of domestic violence against men without a complaining witness, but if a man is abused, he must press charges and testify or there will be no prosecution (and even with a complaining witness, women are much less likely to be charged with abusing a male spouse).

  • BYODB||

    It's a contrived question, so there really isn't any good answer. It's just meant to illustrate a few of the basic logical disconnects between various pet issues.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    I disagree there's no easy answer - morally we must provide better access to health care for all prisoners and the legal system only works if individuals are treated the same.

    Granted I get your question was rethorical, but the ideal of equal treatment in the eyes of the law is well known as a required basis for any ethical/fair legal system.

    And given we provide some medical services to prisoners know, as a society, we've already agreed we have that moral responsibility.

    So this situation is horrible and needs to be rectified for others, but carve out exceptions for special classes of people is immoral and unethical.

    Just another example of politicians causing more problems with useless laws which carve out exceptions for currently favored groups.

    And some people still don't understand how legislating this way creates the '3 felonies a day' problem, because at least were doing something with perfect intent!

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