innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Shackling Banned

This article ran today April 20, 2006, by Gabrielle Banks and Cristina Rouvalis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio said earlier this week he had never heard of the practice of his deputies shackling inmates in labor, and called the very idea of it "crazy."

But the procedural manual in the sheriff's office stipulates that any prisoner admitted to the hospital or medical facility must be shackled by leg restraints.

"There are NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule," the manual says.

Faced with grumbling by some deputies who said he was distancing himself from the official policy, Sheriff DeFazio yesterday lashed out at those who had restrained women by the wrist to their beds during labor at Magee-Womens Hospital.

The hospital said Tuesday that of the 15 to 20 inmates who were admitted for labor every year about half were shackled by one wrist.

"You have to use your brain," Sheriff DeFazio said. "If you don't have a brain, you shouldn't have the job to begin with.

You have to use common sense. These people want to be spoon fed. Even a lay person would know why you wouldn't shackle someone in labor.

Where is she going to go? If someone is going to escape, she is going to do more injury to the fetus and herself than anyone else. It's crazy.

"They are trying to say, 'That is the rule. We have to do it.' But that is stupid. ... They just want to shackle them so they don't have to worry about it, so they can sneak out and have a cigarette."

The manual, which has been in use for a number of years, says: "Any prisoner admitted to a hospital or medical facility as a patient shall be, at minimum, shackled to the bed with leg irons AT ALL TIMES. If the prisoner is unable to be shackled with leg irons due to a medical condition, the deputy will handcuff the prisoner to the bed.

If the prisoner is unable to be shackled with leg iron or handcuffs due to broken arms and legs, then the prisoner shall be secured with a waist belt or waist chain locked firmly to the hospital bed.

"There are NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule."

Before they go on active duty, uniformed staffers with the sheriff's office must sign a waiver that they have received a copy of what they refer to as "black book," and although they are not required to carry it around with them, many deputies keep a copy on hand for reference.

Sheriff DeFazio said yesterday he had halted the shackling practice, but he would not punish anyone who had shackled women during childbirth. He said the male deputies, not the female ones, were more likely to have restrained women during labor.

He said he had no idea that women were being shackled until he was asked about it by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The practice has prompted an outcry from advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Lydia's Place, a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization that helps female offenders.

"A woman dilated 10 centimeters can barely stand up, much less run down the hallway," said Vicki Sirockman, executive director of Lydia's Place.

She and others said the practice was overkill, and was degrading to the women. They also said it posed a health threat to both the mother and baby.

Trish Nelson, Magee's unit director for labor and delivery, said she knew of no instance where the baby's or mother's health was compromised. Ms. Nelson, a nurse, said she preferred no restraints. But she said that if the medical staff asked that the restraint be removed as the labor progressed, the deputy usually complied.

A woman escaping during labor is not as preposterous as it sounds, said a nurse who formerly supervised a prison ward in Indianapolis. Tamara Wardell, 54, of Stowe, said you have to ensure the safety of the staff.

"A lot of women have false labor, before they have full blown labor," said Ms. Wardell, who is studying for a doctorate in nursing at Duquesne University and was formerly head nurse at Wishard Memorial Hospital. "Until they are in hard labor they are mobile.

"I think one handcuff is an acceptable level of restraint to ensure the safety of the staff. It is not as if we put them [prisoners] in this situation."

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said that this was the first he had heard of the shackling of pregnant women.
He said he believes women should be able to give birth without restraints, but that there needs to be appropriate security.

"He is very glad the sheriff is going to look into the issue," said his spokesman, Kevin Evanto.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shackling Controversy

This is a local article about the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners while they give birth. It appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today, April 19, 2006:
By Cristina Rouvalis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sheriff's deputies are shackling some female inmates to the bed during childbirth at Magee-Womens Hospital, officials there said, and the practice has prompted an outcry from advocacy groups.

Sheriff Pete DeFazio said he had no knowledge of any shackling during labor. "That's crazy. It's hard for me to believe. To tell you the truth, I don't believe it."

But Trish Nelson, the hospital's unit director for labor and delivery, said of the 15 to 20 inmates from Allegheny County Jail who give birth every year, about half are restrained by one wrist to the sideboard of the bed by a deputy.

"I would prefer they not be handcuffed at all," said Ms. Nelson, who is a nurse. "It is easier for them to move around. But if they insist on a patient being handcuffed, it is one arm to the side rail.

You can still sit up and turn from side to side."
If an arm restraint impedes the delivery as it progresses, a doctor or nurse will ask the deputy to remove it. She said they usually comply.

The shackling of inmates in labor, apparently done at the discretion of the attending deputy, was confirmed by a 29-year-old woman who lives in Braddock and gave birth at Magee about six months ago.

The inmate, facing drug, simple assault and theft charges, said she was upset that she was shackled on her right arm because it impeded her movement from the waist down. She said the male deputy guarding her told her he was new and that he was following orders.

For the whole story, click here.

Controversy Over Line Up Procedures

This article originally ran in the New York Times on April 19, 2006:

The police lineup is a time-honored staple of crime solving, not to mention of countless cop movies and television shows like "Law and Order." Each year, experts estimate, 77,000 people nationwide are put on trial because witnesses picked them out of one.

In recent years many states and cities have moved to overhaul lineups, as DNA evidence has exposed nearly 200 wrongful convictions, three-quarters of them resulting primarily from bad eyewitness identification.

In the new method, the police show witnesses one person at a time, instead of several at once, and the lineup is overseen by someone not connected to the case, to avoid anything that could steer the witness to the suspect the police believe is guilty.

But now, the long-awaited results of an experiment in Illinois have raised serious questions about the changes. The study, the first to do a real-life comparison of the old and new methods, found that the new lineups made witnesses less likely to choose anyone. When they did pick a suspect, they were more likely to choose an innocent person.

Witnesses in traditional lineups, by contrast, were more likely to identify a suspect and less likely to choose a face put in the lineup as filler.

Advocates of the new method said the Illinois study, conducted by the Chicago Police Department, was flawed, because officers supervised the traditional lineups and could have swayed witnesses.

But the results have empowered many critics who had worried that states and cities were caving in to advocacy groups in adopting the new lineups without solid evidence that they improved on the old ones.

For the whole story, click here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Convicts Request Clemency

Five men were convicted in teh brutal rape and murder of Michel Moore-Bosko, the 18-year-old wife of a Navy officer, in July of 1997.

DNA testing implicated only one of the men, who boasted he committed the crime alone.

The other four are saying they were coerced into confessing and are now requesting clemency.

For the whole story, click here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Commission Advises Change

This article by Henry Weinstein originally ran in the L A Times on April 14, 2006:

A state commission on reforming the criminal justice system proposed significant changes Thursday in the use of eyewitness identification in California courts, citing problems, particularly with cross-racial identifications, that have led to exonerations of prisoners.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which is chaired by former California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, cited statistics from the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York that more than 77% of inmates cleared since 1989 were convicted based on mistaken eyewitness identifications.

For the whole story click here.