Note from Dan: Ann Huebner Waller is a mother of three who lives in Lexington and who takes great issue with Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, over the issue of shackling female jail inmates who are pregnant, or in labor, during transit to a hospital. A bill that would have prevented these tactics was killed this year in a House of Delegates subcommittee that Cline chairs, after he raised the question, “Do you agree choices have consequences?” — which many took as a suggestion those women deserve such harsh treatment.
By Ann Huebner Waller
I know you have written about Delegate Ben Cline’s role in torpedoing HB 836, the bill that would have prevented the shackling of female prisoners during labor.
Not sure if you are aware of the most recent wrinkle: Last week Cline sent a letter to our local papers in Lexington and Rockbridge County, saying he was “misrepresented in the press” and is actually against the shackling of inmates during labor.
From the Rockbridge Weekly:
Therefore, let me set the record straight on the issue of pregnant prisoners: I oppose the use of shackles on female prisoners during labor.
In fact, I have been a strong supporter of the current regulatory action by the Virginia Department of Corrections to prohibit such treatment in Virginia’s jails. This regulatory action was described to us in February during a meeting of the Public Safety Subcommittee that I chair in the House of Delegates. During this meeting, we also considered a bill (HB 836) that would have restricted the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners. Unfortunately, the bill was drafted too broadly and would have led to potentially dangerous situations for law enforcement and for the public.
As Chairman, my first responsibility is to ensure that the laws we pass do not endanger public safety. Therefore, I must ask critical questions about every bill that comes before us, even the ones with goals that I may support. My questions of the witnesses during the hearing were primarily related to the dangers created by the bill.
The interesting thing is the hearings were VIDEOTAPED (the videos are below). I’m wondering if you feel, as I do, that Cline seriously misrepresents the bill and his role in torpedoing it.
In his letter, Cline says the bill was drafted “too broadly” and would have led to dangerous situations for law enforcement and public. Specifically, he says:
(T)he bill as written would have put legal barriers in place against the use of any restraint, even handcuffs, on a violent female prisoner during any stage of pregnancy, not just during labor. I asked several questions about the general need to use handcuffs on violent criminals, and I expressed my concern about the impact that this broad language would have on the safety of law enforcement and jail staff.”
What Cline conveniently neglects to mention is that the bill included a broad exception to give law enforcement the discretion to use restraints where a “reasonably necessary circumstance” arose during ANY STAGE OF PREGNANCY OR CHILDBIRTH. The law as written also allowed for the routine use of wrist restraints during transportation of any pregnant inmate, even when there was not a “reasonably necessary circumstance.”
He also conveniently neglects to mention that, when it looked like the bill wasn’t going to pass, Delegate Patrick Hope amended it (pared it down), limiting the restriction on shackling to only labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery–and still including the “reasonably necessary circumstance” stuff! This was a direct attempt to appease Cline. But Cline torpedoed that too. (Text of amended version is visible at minute 13:40 on video Part 2).
Delegate Hope also tried to have the bill “held over” (rather than just killed), so as not to send a terrible message to the public about the way legislators feel about the shackling of female inmates during labor. Cline torpedoed this as well.
So Cline saying that he is actually AGAINST shackling female inmates during labor just makes me laugh–or want to cry. Especially when you check out minutes 20:30 – 27:00 of the video Part 1 (below) where he is harassing the representative from the anti-torture group (National Religious Campaign Against Torture) and insinuating that one inmate actually deserved to be shackled during labor, returned to jail and hour later, and left to expel her placenta over a week after that.
You can see exactly what Ben Cline is about and where he is coming from in those six and a half minutes.
Again, Dan, thanks for keeping an eye on Virginia’s politicians for us. Oh, the things these people do when they think no one is watching!