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Shackling women during childbirth is considered torture by the UN. So why can it still happen in some US prisons?

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Across the country, restraints are used on prisoners — while they're being housed, transported, and even in some cases, during labor.

In Portland, Maine, Sharon Carrillo has been charged in the murder of her 10-year-old daughter. Last year, Carrillo was transported to a court appearance in handcuffs and shackles while seven months pregnant. It's illegal to do this in Maine.

“It concerns me any time people aren’t following the law," said Christopher MacLean, Carrillo's attorney. “I think the appropriate authorities ought to be asked those questions about why she’s being transported in restraints while pregnant; everyone knows that she’s pregnant, it’s not a secret.”

Jeffrey Trafton, the sheriff in Waldo County, Maine, said this information wasn't available, but action was taken right away once it came to light.

“We didn’t know right away that Sharon Carrillo was pregnant, and that’s why there was a delay," Trafton said. "Once we found out, we took immediate action.”

In many states, restrains can be used on pregnant prisoners only under certain circumstances — for example, if the woman poses a threat to herself or others, or if she's likely to try to escape.

“Oftentimes, these decisions are made based on the nature of the crime, and not the level of risk that the woman actually poses," said Elizabeth Swavola of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The United Nations considers the shackling of an inmate during childbirth a form of torture. The scale of the problem is unclear.

“Most current statistics that we have say that about 5 percent of women that enter jail are pregnant," Swavola said. "But those numbers are quite outdated, you know, about a decade old.”

MacLean said he was impressed with the level of care Carrillo received.

“(Pregnant women) visit our medical department more than your normal inmate with no medical condition, but it’s really routine," said Col. James Bailey of Two Bridges Regional Jail, where Carrillo is being kept. "When we’re talking about a pregnant female, we also want to make sure that they’re safe, and that the baby is safe.”

Carrillo gave birth to a son in May. MacLean maintains Carrillo was physically and mentally abused by her husband, Julio Carrillo, who has also been charged in the death of Sharon's daughter. A trial is expected to begin later this year.

In a proposed bill in South Carolina, lawmakers are seeking to limit the the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners and also give women brief contact with their babies and the ability to nurse immediately after birth. But in cases where there are no other appropriate caretakers, the Department of Health and Human Services generally takes custody of babies born to prisoners.

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