The Family Foundation issued this news release today in conjunction with allied organizations:

Official Public Comment Period for Regulations Starts Today

Advocates Call On the Public to Speak Out in Favor of Regulations

RICHMOND — A 60 day-public comment period starts today, July 29, on proposed regulations that limit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in Virginia's local and regional jails. This public comment period is one step in the multi-step regulatory process that began in 2011. A diverse coalition of faith-based organizations, women's rights advocates, and prison reform groups celebrate the start of the public comment period, which brings the commonwealth one step closer to final adoption of these new rules.

Jessica Cochrane, policy analyst at The Family Foundation said:

It is well past time for Virginia to secure every woman’s dignity and protect her health and the health of her child by finalizing regulations that limit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in local facilities.

In 2011, in conversation with the coalition, the Virginia Department of Corrections expanded its policy limiting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. However, many pregnant inmates have reported being restrained — eight with a waist restraint — in local and regional jails, which are not covered under the Department of Corrections' policy. The Board of Corrections has the authority to create rules for these facilities and in 2012 it approved proposed regulations limiting the use of restraints on pregnant women at local and regional jails.

After the public comment period closes in 60 days, the new rules will be voted on again by the Board of Corrections in order to adopt the new rules as final. The coalition urges the public to comment online in favor of the new regulations, and to speak out in favor of the Board of Corrections amending the proposed rules to include a public reporting provision.

Craig DeRoche, President of Justice Fellowship, said:

While we commend these proposed rules as compassionate, common-sense reform essential for the life and well-being of both mother and baby, we urge the Board of Corrections and governor to also add a strong public reporting requirement to the new rules to ensure accountability for and compliance with the regulations. Right now, the proposed regulations do not provide the meaningful oversight of requiring local and regional jails to publicly report instances in which pregnant inmates are restrained under the exceptions to the regulations approved by the board, which would increase transparency when exceptions are used.

John Horejsi, with Social Action Linking Together, said:

Including a reporting provision in the proposed regulations protects correctional officials by documenting that their use of restraints was in compliance with the law. The proposed regulations currently protect correctional officials by requiring documentation of instances inmates are restrained under exceptions to the rules, but there must be meaningful oversight of this documentation through public reporting.

The medical community, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Association, oppose the use of restraints on pregnant inmates because the practice is unnecessary and dangerous. Further, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the American Correctional Association have all adopted policies to limit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. In addition, 18 states have laws prohibiting or restricting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates.

The coalition urges the public to speak out and comments can be submitted online at the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website: http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/comments.cfm?stageid=6388. The text of the proposed regulations can be found online at: http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewXML.cfm?textid=7860.

The reported cases of women being restrained while pregnant collected by the coalition can be found online at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/20120207ShacklingStories.pdf

The broad coalition of faith-based organizations, women's rights advocates, and prison reform groups, includes, in part, ACLU of Virginia, The Family Foundation, Justice Fellowship, Legal Aid Justice Center, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Social Action Linking Together, Virginia Council of Churches and The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.