Members of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party investigated the use of shackles on prisoners while hospitalized and concluded this inhumane practice is widespread in hospitals across the United States. The PSC of WWP is calling on health care workers to support a ban on this practice, as it flies in the face of ethical patient care.
To that end, the PSC created a list of demands around the proper treatment of incarcerated sick, elderly or pregnant people. These demands only address the tip of the iceberg of the appalling conditions that exist behind the walls of the U.S. carceral system at the local, state and federal level.
The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a strong statement in 2021 against shackling of incarcerated persons when they are sick and/or hospitalized. This was in response to the shackling of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, while he was hospitalized with heart failure and a COVID-19 infection.
The statement read in part: “The use of shackles during his hospital stays is deplorable and causes Mr. Abu-Jamal additional and unnecessary suffering.” Citing international standards on the treatment of prisoners, the U.N. human rights experts added that “instruments of restraint are to be imposed only when no lesser form of control would be effective to address the risks posed by unrestricted movement.
“We are concerned that the medical condition of Mr. Abu-Jamal (who also suffers from a severe skin condition and hepatitis C) could be linked to years of medical neglect by the Department of Corrections of the state of Pennsylvania,” the experts said.
The prisoners’ rights movement has made little progress since the 1971 Attica prison rebellion, when imprisoned organizers penned the powerful statement read by L.D. Barkley: “We are men! We are not beasts, and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace . . . has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here [at Attica] and throughout the United States.”
Firsthand accounts from incarcerated people describe rampant medical neglect by for-profit health care contractors hired by prisons across the country. The harshness and apathetic treatment that incarcerated people routinely endure flies in the face of every ethical standard this health care worker has held for my entire professional life as a Registered Nurse. Compassionate release of elderly or terminally ill persons rarely takes place. When it does, it is often too late to provide any true quality of life.
Last week, the PSC had the opportunity to present the Ban Shackling demands at a national conference of Healthcare-Now, a group of labor activists and health care workers who are campaigning for the enactment of single payer universal health care in the U.S. We are raising awareness among health care workers of the dire health conditions of incarcerated people and connecting with allies to grow a campaign that will empower physicians, nurses and other health care providers to resist the status quo, insist on delivering quality care to incarcerated patients and ultimately work with us to abolish the carceral system.