Pregnant Chicago Inmates No Longer Shackled During Childbirth

Handcuffs, by Flickr user "The.Comedian", licensed via Creative Commons.That title is not a metaphor for anything.  Despite regulations requiring prison guards to undo any restraints on pregnant prison inmates during labor, many women were shackled and strapped down up to and, sometimes, during the delivery of a baby.  Guards apparently ignored not only the law, but also medical personnel pleading for them to unlock the handcuffs to prevent pain, discomfort, or other complications.  The law banning such restraint has been in the books since 1999, but apparently has not been followed by the employees of Cook County Jail.  Some 80 women stepped forward in this class action lawsuit, all to make claims of poor treatment during labor.

Yesterday, a federal judge preliminarily approved a $4.1 million settlement for these women, with about $35,000 on average going to each woman and the rest towards counseling and jobs programs.  Additionally, the Cook County sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, will enforce the law more strictly.  How they ever decided to relax their enforcement of the law is beyond me.  Except in extreme cases, I don’t see how a woman in labor, immobilized, wracked with pain, could ever pose a threat to anyone’s safety.  Especially with doctors, i.e. highly trained and trusted medical experts, asking for the handcuff key.  Especially with the woman’s cries and wails and general need to wriggle around as waves of contraction pain hit them.  The guards were probably just following orders, not that that’s an excuse, because you’ve got to have a heart of stone to ignore such empathetic entreaties.  Bottom line: it’s nearly impossible for someone in the process of giving birth to either escape from your custody or stab you.  The sheriff’s department’s choices prior to this settlement defy logic and are, in sum, shameful.

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