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SC becomes 43rd state to outlaw shackling of pregnant inmates

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Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday signed into law a bill prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates, making South Carolina the 43rd state to enact such a law and putting it in line with the 2018 federal First Step Act. Adam Benson/Staff

COLUMBIA — In a show of solidarity that cut across political lines, South Carolina on Thursday removed its name from the handful of states without a law prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates.

“This legislation is excellent, it’s the result of a lot of work and what is reflected in this document has been policy, but there are instances where it has not been practiced,” Gov. Henry McMaster said during a ceremonial signing of H. 3967, a measure that bars the use of leg, waist and ankle restraints on pregnant inmates.

South Carolina becomes the 43rd state with an anti-shackling law for pregnant inmates.

The rule pertains to detention facilities run by state, county or local governments. Federal prisons are already banned from restraining female inmates as the result of a criminal justice reform package signed by President Donald Trump in 2018.

Under language in the state bill, wrists also can’t be bound in a way that would prevent a woman from protecting herself in case of a fall.

The legislation goes beyond what its lead sponsor state Rep. Nancy Mace, D-Daniel Island, asked for, with amendments included that require access to adequate nutrition, availability of menstrual hygiene products, an end to solitary confinement of pregnant prisoners and weekly contact visits between jailed people with low or minimum-security classifications and their children.

“People go to prison as punishment, not for punishment. We in South Carolina stand tall for the respect that we have for all people,” McMaster said.

Shortly before Thursday’s bill signing, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office on Twitter explained its policy regarding the shackling of pregnant inmates. There is currently one pregnant inmate in its custody, officials said.

Leg irons aren’t used for women being transported for neonatal-related medical appointments, the office said.

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Federal prisons are barred from restraining pregnant inmates as the result of a criminal justice reform package signed by Trump in 2018 — unless the women pose a safety risk to themselves or others.

Mace said Thursday’s signing was an historic moment for the state.

“It took a lot of people coming together on both sides of the aisle, even during the COVID-19 crisis to make this bill happen,” she said. “We’ve done an amazing thing for women who are in our correctional facilities. Life is a series of second chances, and every person should receive redemption.”

Last week, the state House voted 117-0 in favor of Mace’s proposal, the second time in a year it won broad floor support, with lawmakers in April 2019 backing it 104-3.

But the provision didn’t make it through the Senate before last year’s cross-over deadline. The Senate in March voted 42-0 to prohibit restraining pregnant inmates.

State-run prisons ended the practice of shackling pregnant inmates in early 2019. The state prison system has 1,163 female inmates; four are pregnant, according to state Department of Corrections data.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups across the state identified the adoption of an anti-shackling law as a top priority.

“This was an inhumane practice that many people realize needed to be stopped,” said Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network. “We had a bipartisan, committed group of people that realized this was a barbaric practice.”

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

Benson joined The Post and Courier's Columbia bureau in November 2019. A native of Boston, he spent five years at the Greenwood Index-Journal and has won multiple South Carolina Press Association awards for his reporting.

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