Cook County Sheriff will pay $4.1 million to pregnant inmates

May 23, 2012

Quinn Ford and The Associated Press

The Cook County Sheriff's office will have to fork over $4.1 million to female inmates who were shackled while giving birth.

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve approved the settlement. Barring any objections, that sum will be divided between 60 and 100 women involved in the class-action lawsuit.

Plaintiff’s attorney Tom Morrissey said he expects the settlement to go through after hearing feedback from some women involved. Morrissey said he thought the settlement was fair. He said, more importantly, the sheriff’s office has stopped shackling its inmates while they are giving birth.

Illinois banned the shackling of female inmates giving birth in 1999.

Morrissey said aside from being illegal, the practice is wrong for a number of reasons. He said shackling women could cause medical complications like blood clotting. He also cited moral reasons.

“It’s just terrible inhumane and uncivil to shackle and handcuff a person to a hospital bed while they’re in labor,” Morrissey said.

Kenneth Flaxman, another attorney representing the female inmates, said the settlement sends a message.

“It sends a signal to every jail in the county that it’s expensive to disregard the rights of pregnant women, and it’s much more humane and healthy to respect their rights and not to shackle a woman who’s in labor or giving birth or who has just given birth,” Flaxman said.

A portion of the $4.1 million will set up a fund to provide services to the affected women. That fund will take care of any costs related to complications stemming from being shackled. Morrissey said the fund will also help the women cope with issues that may have landed them in jail in the first place. He said the fund will provide services for things like substance abuse and chronic unemployment, a major problem for women who have served time in jail.

The Cook County Sheriff's office has not respond to requests for comment.