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August 29, 2008

The St. Louis Dispatch ran an article put out by the Associated Press regarding the 8th Circuit's grant of rehearing in Nelson v. Norris, the case where Shawanna Nelson was shackled during her labor and delivery.

Please post a comment supporting this amazing and rare grant of rehearing and let them know that you too condemn the cruel and inhumane practice of shackling pregnant women during childbirth.

U.S. appellate court sets aside panel’s ruling in lawsuit over in-labor inmate


A federal appeals court on Thursday agreed to rehear a claim that the state prison system violated a pregnant inmate’s rights when it shackled her as she was in labor.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis set aside a panel’s decision last month that Arkansas Department of Correction Director Larry Norris and guard Patricia Turnesky should be immune from the lawsuit by former inmate Shawanna Nelson. The court granted Nelson’s request for an “en banc,” or full court, review of the panel’s decision.
Nelson sued the prison system in 2004, claiming she experienced extreme mental anguish, pain and suffering from being shackled as she was in labor.
“I think the panel made a terrible decision, so I want the full court to have an opportunity to hear the case and make a decision,” said Nelson’s attorney, Cathleen Compton, who said she was notified by the court of its decision Thursday. “There’s a full court there for a reason.”
Nelson gave birth in 2003 while serving a sentence at the McPherson Unit in Newport for credit-card fraud and passing hot checks. Turnesky took Nelson to a hospital, where the inmate was handcuffed and shackled until the medical staff needed to draw blood and check how far she was dilated. The rest of the time, Nelson remained shackled to the hospital bed’s handrail by at least one ankle.
At a doctor’s request, Turnesky removed the 18-inch leg chain as Nelson gave birth but reattached the restraint afterward.
In June 2007, U.S. District Judge James M. Moody accepted the ruling of a federal magistrate judge, allowing Nelson’s suit against Norris and Turnesky to continue on constitutional grounds. The appeals court panel last month overturned Moody’s decision, citing another case that allowed guards to shackle inmates to prevent them from escaping.
In 2004, correction officials adopted a policy against using metal restraints on pregnant women as a compromise with state legislators and a nonprofit group opposed to the chaining of pregnant inmates. A bill to ban the practice in law by state Rep. Sharon Dobbins, D-North Little Rock, died in a Senate committee during the 2007 legislative session.
The Correction Department’s policy allows for “soft restraints” made of nylon to be used to bind an inmate to a wheelchair or hospital bed if the inmate is an escape risk. Typically, prison officials say they grant pregnant women “trustee” status, meaning they are transported without restraints.
Arguments before the full court have been set for Sept. 24.
Dina Tyler, spokesman for the Correction Department, said officials weren’t surprised by the court’s decision and said she believed the department would prevail again before the full court.