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RACINE, Wis. — A new legislative bill prohibiting the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women and girls is gaining momentum in Wisconsin, led by State Senator Lena Taylor and Representative Jodi Emerson.

The bill is set to be circulated for co-sponsorship the week of Oct. 2, according to a press release from FREE, Wisconsin’s first non-profit organization for and by justice-system-impacted women.

The legislation, championed by FREE as part of the Wisconsin Dignity Coalition, aims to outlaw shackling incarcerated pregnant women until six weeks postpartum. The proposal is a broader effort to improve conditions for women and girls in the state’s correctional facilities.

“Humanity doesn’t start or stop with incarceration,” said Senator Lena Taylor, the legislation’s author. “Chains wrapped around a pregnant woman’s waist and ankles endanger both the mother and the pregnancy. At least 37 other states have figured that out already and limit the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women. When you know better, you do better. It’s time we do better in Wisconsin.”

While some state facilities and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections already have policies that disallow this practice, supporters of the bill argue that legislation is essential to make the ban uniform across the state.

“As we have visited legislator’s offices and communities across Wisconsin, we have not found support for continuing the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women and girls,” said Peggy West, Executive Director of FREE. “It just makes sense to outlaw the practice.”

The push for change also includes firsthand accounts from those who have lived through the experience. Cheri Branham, a FREE Maternal Infant Health Fellow and prison birth survivor, shared her story, emphasizing the need for legislation.

“I was restrained when I was sent to the hospital to give birth,” Branham recounted. “I had no intention to escape—only wanting to have a dignified birth. Anti-shackling is the first step in adjusting the narrative for pregnant incarcerated people awaiting the best and worst day of their lives. They deserve dignity and respect. While policy has changed since I gave birth, this needs to be a law.”

Anti-shackling bill summit, co-sponsorship information

The bill is scheduled for co-sponsorship in early October, and if passed, Wisconsin would join 37 other states that have already limited or outlawed the practice.

It represents a significant stride toward aligning Wisconsin’s prison system with broader humane treatment and justice reform movements.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.