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Pregnant Cook County inmates settle suit over birthing conditions

To ensure that a child and mother remain safe during the labor, delivery and birthing process, hospitals and staff have a responsibility to adequately monitor and assess mothers and their babies so that any problems or complications can be addressed immediately.

But wouldn’t you agree that part of providing quality medical care to laboring and birthing mothers should include making sure that a mother is somewhat comfortable while she prepares to deliver her baby?

For example, many hospitals let women walk around during labor or take warm baths if they can do so safely. This gives women the opportunity to make their own choices about how they want to manage their pain. Sadly, at least 80 women were denied these options while giving birth to their children between December 2006 and February 2011. These women were shackled to their hospital beds because they were Cook County Jail inmates.

In 1999, Illinois banned officers from keeping pregnant inmates shackled, cuffed and restrained while they were in labor. However, 80 female Cook County Jail inmates filed a lawsuit against the county after they claimed that officers refused to remove shackles and cuffs while they were in labor.

The lawsuit argued that when the women went into labor while they were in jail, they were cuffed to gurneys to be transported to local hospitals to give birth to their babies. Once the women were taken to the hospital, they were then restrained with one arm and one leg chained to their hospital beds. The women were then cuffed again once their babies were born.

Plaintiffs argued that this was inhumane and degrading. Instead of feeling the joy that many women feel when thinking about the birth of their children, many of these women are haunted by their experiences.

Although these women cannot change their awful experiences, they will finally receive some compensation for the county’s wrongdoing. This week, it was reported that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was settled. Cook County agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle the suit. The 80 plaintiffs will each receive compensation in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $45,000. Some of the settlement will also go toward making sure that the mothers receive counseling.

Source: 5 NBC Chicago, “$4.1M Settlement Reached for Pregnant Inmates Who Said They Were Shackled,” Anthony Ponce, May 23, 2012


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