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ACLU Settles Suit With Allegheny County Over Treatment Of Pregnant Inmates

Brian Bohannon
Pregnant inmate Nikisha Robinson sits on her bed at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women in Pewee Valley, Ky. on Jan. 8, 2007.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday it had reached an agreement with Allegheny County regarding the solitary confinement of pregnant inmates at the county jail.

According to the new policy, pregnant women will only be placed in solitary for behavior that “poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm.”

The new, comprehensive policy for the treatment of pregnant women is part of a settlement reached nearly a year after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of five women who had been incarcerated at the county jail.

The suit, filed in December 2016, alleged that being held alone for 23 hours a day in response to minor infractions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

“They don’t have ready access to the ability to exercise and eat nutritional food and shower and other things,” said attorney Dave Fawcett of Reed Smith, which worked with the ACLU on the suit. “Of course that’s a risk to them and their child.”

The settlement also included $90,000 in legal fees and damages to be split between the five women.

County spokesperson Amie Downs said a new general policy went into effect before the suit was filed. According to an e-mail, that policy read as follows:

Pregnant inmates that commit minor infractions will receive an informal resolution or misconduct, but may only be segregated from the general population following clearance from medical personnel. These inmates will not receive telephone, commissary or visiting privileges. Pregnant inmates that commit major infractions, such as cheeking medication, fighting, serious contraband recovery, etc. will be transferred to the infirmary. A recreation plan to ensure adequate out of cell time will be provided when an inmate is transferred to the infirmary. These inmates will not receive telephone, commissary or visiting privileges.

Downs acknowledged that negotiations with attorneys lead to a more comprehensive policy laying out specific guidelines for the treatment of pregnant inmates.
Fawcett applauded the county for the new policy, which requires that all female inmates be given a pregnancy test and requires “adequate nutrition” for both pregnant and post-partum inmates.

“It’s a good, comprehensive policy and across the country this problem exists,” he said. “A lot of jails and prisons don’t have a policy that applies to how pregnant women should be treated.”