Alliance for Progressive Values President Stephanie Rodriguez, board member Claire Tuite and member Kirsten Gray all spoke at a subcommittee hearing this morning on HB836, a bill in the Virginia General Assembly which would have ended the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners during labor. Debate lasted for over an hour with a large group of speakers from across the ideological spectrum testifying in favor of the bill. Sadly the bill failed to report and is dead for this session. The main opposition came from law enforcement and the sheriff’s departments who argued alternately that the practice of shacking did not occur, or if it did it had little effect and must be warranted. Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cline, a prosecutor from Rockbridge, was particularly antagonistic to the bill and claimed that its passage would endanger correction officers, doctors, nurses, the general public and perhaps the state of the union if women prisoners were allowed to deliver their children without manacles. For the record the bill gave wide leeway for corrections officers to use their best judgment in these cases, it simply prohibited the uniform use of shackles which seems to be a prevailing pattern in parts of Virginia. No one wants women, even women in labor, who are a clear and present danger either to themselves or to others, women with histories of violence towards guards or doctors to be unsupervised or totally unrestrained such that others might be hurt, but the fact is that the vast majority of women in prison are nonviolent offenders and there was powerful testimony today that these women would almost certainly be incapable of escape or harming others directly before, during or after delivery.
APV would like to thank Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington for sponsoring this bill and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax who cast the only vote in favor of passage. We also want to thank everyone who signed our petition in favor of HB836, you helped us raise awareness about this issue with the general public and legislators and that can only help our cause. APV is involved with the ongoing regulatory process that also seeks to stop this demeaning and inhumane practice. This process is a slow one and can take a year or more, but it is our best shot right now. To read APV’s comments and to post your own on the proposed state regs, go here: http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/entercomment.cfm?stageid=6083
The Washington Post reported on the committee and quoted two APV members.
“The shackling of pregnant prisoners is shameful,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, president of the Alliance for Progressive Values.
Kirsten Gray of Richmond (APV member) recounted her own childbirth experience and said it was folly to believe women in such pain could be a threat to public safety.
Our New Year’s online fund-drive was a smashing success. APV had aimed to raise $1.000 in ten dollar increments over the course of the month. With your help we made that number with days to go. THANK YOU all very much for helping us spread a progressive message here in Richmond at the General Assembly and in Congress.
This bill was read on the floor Friday, it will be debated on Monday and the final vote will be Tuesday. The Senate will be in session from 12 noon on. The bill will be debated at some point as part of “bills on second reading, regular calendar”. You can watch the debate on the internet here. The vote will be very close and we need Democrats to hang together on this. Thanks.
Update: Thank you to all who lent their support and signatures. Unfortunately, this bill was passed 21 to 18 on Wednesday, February 1st. This is very disappointing, but not unexpected with this General Assembly. We will continue to fight bills in the GA that we feel endanger the rights of women. We will not give up and we will make your voices heard. The tide will turn.
January 24th, 2012 marked APV’s first lobby day at the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia. Our team got an early start and we saw a lot of legislators. We talked generally about the importance of keeping the ban on uranium mining and on facilitating the spread of clean, renewable energy and protecting the environment. We also lobbied against specific legislation like the many anti-choice and voter suppression bills that have come on the heels of the Republican takeover of both chambers and the executive branch. The math may be against us as far as the votes go, but we made a strong case for our side and we let them know we’re watching and we’ll be back. In the coming days, we’ll have more information about the bills we’re tracking: which ones we support and which ones we oppose. You can follow what we’re tracking at the APV page on Richmond Sunlight: http://www.richmondsunlight.com/photosynthesis/08xsj/.
In the midst of the new 2012 General Assembly session, APV held our monthly Salon at Helen’s restaurant here in Richmond. Our scheduled guest speaker was Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond, but Delegate Carr was called away on pressing business and her Aide Antonio Ellias spoke instead. As always the discussion was broad and illuminating. Thank you Antonio for speaking on short notice, we will have delegate Carr back again soon.