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Lawmakers try to stop Milwaukee jail from shackling women giving birth

A bill in committee in the Wisconsin state legislature would prohibit Milwaukee County Jail from continuing its practice of keeping pregnant women shackled while they give birth.

Opponents of the practice call it barbaric.

"Any woman has a right to give birth to her child unencumbered," said attorney James Gende, who is representing multiple women suing the prison. "It is a sacred bond created at the birth of a child."

Gende says he has multiple clients right now that claim their treatment at the hands of prison staff led to their unborn children dying. He also says a recent court finding of a prison guard being guilty of rape shows how big the problem is.

"[The guard] impregnated the female," Gende said. "The female was then shackled to the bed when she was having the child. There was a verdict in that case for 6.7 million, 5 of which was punitive damages. I'd say that's a pretty large problem."

Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, says the lawsuits brought the issue to the state's attention.

"We've been sued on multiple occasions because of the trauma that exists for the child," Taylor said. "I'm certain that it may have played a part in those deaths or those issues that happened after those births."

Taylor says they decided to act after former Sheriff David Clarke didn't change the policy.

"His management was such that we were challenged and so that's where the bill really stemmed from," Taylor said. "Trying to correct the failures of Sheriff Clarke."

The bill is still in committee but is receiving bipartisan support. It would next go to the Senate floor if it passes.The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office did not respond to messages.

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