Friday, September 25, 2015

September 25 2015. Most countries are flawed in some way or other, but most developed nations have opted to treat their citizens fairly well. It tends to go with the word ‘developed.’ The U.S. seems to bend over backwards to be an exception. It’s a genuine puzzle. And it’s genuinely wrong.




The poet and fellow Anglo-Irishman (we are a vanishing class) William Butler Yeats once had occasion to address a rowdy Dublin audience—I think after a Sean O’Casey play—with the memorable words:

“Dubliners, you have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?  Once more you have rocked the cradle of genius.”

Rioting over a controversial play is one thing. The disturbing prevalence of violence, gratuitous cruelty and anti-feminism in American culture is another matter entirely. Still, I feel Yeats’s words have a certain relevance—and the U.S. has certainly been “the cradle of genius” often enough. It still is.

I would truly like to see it become the cradle of decency as well. Where my American friends are concerned, it already is.

That is why such headlines as the one listed below so distress me.It is from the New York Times.

Yeats, by the way, certainly has vanished. He died many decades ago. His reputation grows ever stronger—and deservedly so.

The Duke of Wellington—he of Waterloo fame—was  another Anglo-Irishman. He memorably commented: “Being born in a stable doesn’t make one a horse.”

Oh dear.

Still, you’ve got to admit the Anglo-Irish have a way with words. And no, I’m not including myself on this occasion. But, it is an inspiring heritage.


Handcuffed While Pregnant


Being a prisoner entails daily indignities, some of which are unavoidable. But for sheer cruelty and pointless degradation, it is hard to top the shackling of women who are pregnant, in labor or caring for their newborns.

The practice has never made any sense. Apart from the fact that women giving birth or about to give birth pose little threat to anyone, handcuffs, waist chains and ankle manacles introduce very real health risks to the mother and her fetus. The American Medical Association has called the practice “barbaric.”

Yet it is perfectly legal in 28 states, and was common practice in New York until 2009, when Gov. David Paterson signed a law prohibiting shackling a woman before, during or immediately after labor and delivery.

The practice appears not to have disappeared in New York. A survey revealed that 23 of 27 incarcerated women who gave birth in the five years after the legislation passed were shackled illegally, according to the Correctional Association of New York, an inmate advocacy group. Many others were shackled during their pregnancies on medical visits or transfers between prisons, which can involve bus rides of up to 10 hours.

A new bill would clarify and strengthen the 2009 law by banning shackling throughout pregnancy and for eight weeks after giving birth. An exception would allow for handcuffing women who are a danger to themselves or others. In addition, the bill provides for training officers more frequently and informing women more clearly of their rights under the law.

The bill would also require prison officials to file annual reports on the use of shackles — a level of transparency that is conspicuously lacking today. (After the survey was released, the acting corrections commissioner, Anthony Annucci, said he was shocked, while prison officials complained that the women’s stories were not consistent with their records.)

The bill sailed through the New York Legislature in June and now awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature. Unsurprisingly, major medical groups have supported the bill, while the New York State Sheriffs’ Association has come out against it, calling the new requirements “excessive, overstated and extraordinarily burdensome.” Among their complaints is the added cost of extra training and staff members, even though only about 40 pregnant women are held in state prisons each year. Prison guards regularly face dangerous situations; pregnant women visiting their doctors or moving between prisons is not one of them.

New York can take pride in being one of the first states to outlaw shackling six years ago. Mr. Cuomo should not hesitate to reaffirm that law, and to broaden its protections, by signing the new bill.

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