Cook County officials on Wednesday agreed to to pay more than $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by pregnant women who said they were shackled at their hands and feet while they gave birth at the county jail.
Eighty female inmates claimed they were treated in such a manor while in labor at the Cook County Jail between December 2006 and February 2011, despite the fact that Illinois banned the practice in 1999.
According to an attorney, the women went into labor at the jail, were shackled and cuffed to gurneys while being taken from the jail to Stroger Hospital, and continued to be restrained with one arm and one leg chained until the moment the baby's head was visible. As soon as the child was born, jail officers put the cuffs and shackles back on, securing the new mothers to their hospital beds.
"Going through labor with my arms shackled down, my feet shackled, it was very hard because I wasn't able to move," said Cora Fletcher, one of the plaintiffs.
Latiana Walton spoke more emotionally of the treatment.
"I can't talk about giving birth to my second son because it was just so degrading. I was treated like I wasn't human," she said.
The Cook County Board gave preliminary approval for a $4.1 million settlement that will be divided among the 80 plaintiffs. Federal Judge Amy St. Eve agreed to the deal Tuesday. It allots anywhere from $5,000 to $45,000 to each woman. Some of the money will also be put into a fund to provide counseling for the mothers.
Sheriff Tom Dart's office previously said it was necessary to shackle women in labor because of a 1998 case in which a woman jumped out of a hospital window and died. Under the terms of Tuesday’s settlement, it did not accept any wrongdoing.
In a statement released Tuesday, Spokesman Frank Bilecki said that the sheriff "strictly prohibits the use of security restraints on pregnant women in custody” unless there are “unusual circumstances."
Bilecki said the settlement was "an efficient way to end this lawsuit and to prevent further cost to taxpayers."
He described Dart’s wider policy of dealing with pregnant detainees in a segregated ?therapeutic environment: as the "most progressive ... in the nation."