National | CHUBU CONNECTION

Female inmates OK'd to give birth without handcuffs

CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Pregnant female convicts will in the future give birth without having to wear handcuffs, after the father of a baby born to an inmate in Kasamatsu prison, Gifu Prefecture, lobbied against the rule.

Under the Act on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment of Inmates and Detainees, inmates must be handcuffed while being escorted in and out of prison and whenever they are outside prison facilities.

There are no exceptions when giving birth in a hospital, although the wardens present can decide to uncuff the prisoner. In most cases, female prisoners have given birth with at least one handcuff on.

But the Justice Ministry is revising the policy in response to a case that began when Kasamatsu prison inmate sent a letter to her common-law husband about her upcoming labor.

The 32-year-old was eight months pregnant when, in October 2014, she was sentenced to jail for breaking the Stimulants Control Act. She was informed she would be handcuffed during labor.

She wrote to her 59-year-old partner: “I’ll be wheeled into the labor room in handcuffs. I’m sad, but I guess there’s nothing I can do but accept it.”

The man was horrified. He petitioned authorities to have her handcuffs removed.

The woman’s son was born in the hospital in late November. The birth was straightforward, albeit premature, and the woman had her handcuffs removed during birth.

“Both mother and son are healthy. She’d like to thank everyone for showing concern. She was glad that she could give birth without handcuffs,” said a visitor.

It is not the only time Kasamatsu prison has dealt with a birth. Naomi Kojyo, the head of the jail’s administration department, said there were three births in 2013, but none in 2012. There was one in 2014 — the case reported here.

“When giving birth, one of their hands will normally be cuffed, with an officer holding a rope tied to the handcuffs,” he said. “The handcuffs might be removed if the doctor recommends it.”

The ministry says there are nine facilities for female inmates but records of pregnancies are not kept as they are rare.

A representative of the ministry’s correction bureau confirmed they decided to change the policy after hearing of the case at Kasamatsu prison.

“The decision was made to protect the well-being of mother and child,” he said.

Other facilities will be informed of the change soon.

Critics say the change is overdue. Masahiro Ono, a professor at Asahi University, accuses the ministry of neglecting the needs and rights of pregnant convicts.

Not only is it nearly impossible for an inmate to try to escape from a sealed-off area like the labor room, he said, but chaining her goes against international standards and shows backward thinking in policy.

Considering the times we live in, the decision to let female inmates give birth without handcuffs is long overdue, especially in view of human rights, Ono said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Dec. 30.