Letter: No justification for shackling

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From Ms Anita Dockley

Sir: The Howard League is appalled that ministers have rejected proposals to end the inappropriate and barbaric practice of shackling pregnant prisoners ("Prison mothers to stay in chains", 10 January). Information from prisoners themselves and eye-witnesses at the hospital have confirmed that prisoners are still cuffed, even when in the later stages of labour.

Ann Widdecombe's defence of this policy is that women are prone to escape when escorted outside the prison even if they are pregnant. This view does not match the reality, as the Prison Service's own figures show that only six women in the whole of England and Wales escaped from escorts during 1994-95.

By any standard of civilised behaviour, the shackling of pregnant prisoners represents a cruel and degrading treatment. It may also be a practice that contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 7 of its UN equivalent, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Yours faithfully,

Anita Dockley

Policy Officer

The Howard League

for Penal Reform

London, N19

10 January