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No More Chains For Pregnant Cons

Pregnant state prisoners will no longer be shackled while they are in labor under a new state Department of Correction policy.

Women considered risky will be held with soft restraints and all other prisoners will be under a guard's supervision. The department reached the compromise after meeting with legislators and inmate advocates this week.

The changes follow a complaint by an inmate who gave birth and said she was shackled during much of her labor and chained again shortly after she had her baby.

The department said the new policy will prevent escapes but will also put less burden on women preparing to give birth. The soft restraints would be placed on one wrist and one ankle.

"The soft restraints will still accomplish what we need to accomplish," Correction Department spokeswoman Dina Tyler said Thursday.

The Coalition to End the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates in Arkansas said it was pleased by the compromise, but that it still wishes no restraints were used.

"We cannot concur in the use of any restraints for laboring women inmates in the custody of the state, unless medically requested," said Dee Ann Newell, who issued a statement for the group.

Along with the new guidelines, a long-term solution also will be studied, such as building a separate facility for pregnant prisoners. Nineteen of the 700 imprisoned women in Arkansas gave birth in the past year.

By Caryn Rousseau