Civil rights advocate: NC’s new anti-shackling law for pregnant inmates is not enough


Governor Cooper, on September 10, signed into law a bill prohibiting correctional officers in North Carolina from shackling people who are in labor, among other provisions aimed at improving conditions for those who are incarcerated and pregnant.

It’s about time that North Carolina joined dozens of other states that have outlawed this barbaric practice, but as incarcerated people and their loved ones know all too well, changing the law is not enough. Unconstitutional and illegal treatment happens in American prisons and jails every day.

In December 2019, a Department of Public Safety policy was already in place, prohibiting the use of shackles during labor and the postpartum period. Despite this policy, officers shackled Tracey Edwards while she was in labor and after she gave birth. Her mistreatment did not stop there. After she was returned to the prison from the hospital – separated from her newborn and not even able to visit with her – she was denied necessary medical treatment, exacerbating her trauma.

I am proud to represent Ms. Edwards in her quest for redress and for meaningful change in North Carolina, and I am pleased that the new Dignity for Incarcerated Women law bans this specific cruelty that she was forced to experience. However, I cannot help but think of those across the country who have endured similar treatment, even after corrective laws were adopted in their states, and whose torture was ignored because they did not have a lawyer to advocate for them.

The reality is that laws like this are frequently violated. North Carolina’s new anti-shackling law, like many others in the nation, fails to explicitly provide those who are harmed the right to sue. Pregnant and postpartum individuals who are subjected to shackling may thus be without recourse when the law and their rights are violated.

This begs the question — Why, in the 21st century, is it still necessary to legislate and litigate to protect this vulnerable population from such draconian measures? Unfortunately, many elements of our society, including some of those who oversee our corrections systems, have discounted the humanity of those we incarcerate, just as some prison and jail administrators work hard to prevent them from exercising their fundamental rights.

The new North Carolina law was passed due to the incredible work of grassroots organizers and advocates. Their campaign continues, aiming to abolish all remnants of an outdated, barbaric carceral system.

Until they fully succeed, we must fight for justice with the tools we have. That means pursuing the case of Tracey Edwards and of all those who are similarly aggrieved. A new law is on the books, but the fight is far from over.

Lauren Kuhlik, an Associate at the Washington, DC, law firm Tycko & Zavareei LLP, was a fellow at the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she engaged in litigation and other advocacy to stop unconstitutional and illegal practices by prison and jail administrators and ICE.

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

Victor Armstrong will lead the Cooper administration's efforts to address racial and ethnic hea [...]

WASHINGTON—This year’s round of redistricting is already crumbling into partisanship and court chall [...]

The Lake Raleigh fishing pier lies 80 miles north of Ground Zero for the toxic compound GenX, the Ch [...]

Challenger says Democratic incumbent is behind the times on issues like the death penalty and mariju [...]

If there’s one enduring myth in America, it’s that there’s nothing we can really do to end poverty. [...]

Veteran Triangle-area Congressman David Price called it a career yesterday and revealed that he will [...]

Mail delivery under Louis DeJoy's USPS ain't what it used to be TALLAHASSEE, FL. – For mor [...]

The post NC redistricting: Easy as 1,2,3 appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

A Clear and Present Danger


NC’s Tarheel Army Missile Plant is a toxic disgrace
Read the two-part story about the Army’s failure to clean up hazardous chemicals, which have contaminated a Black and Hispanic neighborhood for 30 years.

Read in English.

Haga clic aquí para leer: Peligro inminente
Una antigua planta de misiles del Ejército ha contaminado un vecindario negro y latino durante 30 años.

Leer en español.