State sued over shackling inmate who was in labor

Casandra Brawley’s contractions were coming every five minutes, and she’d been leaking amniotic fluid for days. Labor was imminent. Time to go to the hospital.

But as a prison inmate, Brawley still had to wear a “waist chain” with her wrists shackled to her sides on the ride to the hospital. She said she was shackled to her hospital bed, even after getting an epidural.

And as soon as she had an emergency cesarean section, she said, she was shackled again for a three-day bed rest.

On Thursday, a public-interest law firm in Seattle called the shackling a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” as it sued the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in federal court. Shackling a woman during labor is contrary to established medical advice, in addition to being “ludicrous,” said Brawley’s attorney, Sara Ainsworth of Legal Voice.

“It’s medically dangerous,” Ainsworth said. “Labor requires a woman to use her entire body to have a healthy baby and birth experience. If part of your body is needlessly restrained, it does not allow a doctor to care for a patient.”

DOC policy now bans restraining inmates during “labor or delivery,” but the agency said in a statement it could not comment on Brawley’s case because her records were archived. There is no state law banning the practice of shackling inmates during labor.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports a federal law banning shackling women in labor because it interferes with medical care and puts “the health and lives of the women and unborn children at risk.”

Brawley, now 29, said she was a methamphetamine addict from age 16 to 26, leading to a felony record for theft and drug possession. She said she has been clean for three years.

She was nine months pregnant in April 2007 and serving a 14-month sentence at the Washington Correctional Center for Women at Purdy when, during dinner hour, she went into active labor. She’d been leaking amniotic fluid for three days but had been denied admission to a hospital.

But with contractions now five minutes apart, she was taken — shackled with the belly chain — to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma. Then, she was shackled to the bed with an ankle cuff — and being watched over by a prison officer — when doctors realized she had a high fever and her baby’s heart rate was about 200 beats per minute. She remained shackled, she said, after being given an epidural five hours into labor.

“I thought it was kind of strange because I couldn’t feel my feet,” she said.

She was uncuffed only when a doctor insisted she be unshackled for an emergency c-section, according to the lawsuit. Brawley’s baby, a boy named Jayden, had an infection likely related to the previous rupture of her amnion, Ainsworth said.

She remained shackled to the hospital bed during her three days of recovery and a previously undiagnosed case of E. coli food poisoning. Each time she got up, she was fitted with an ankle chain by a prison officer.

“It felt awful to be up,” Brawley said. “It felt like my guts were falling out.”

She was released from prison about a month after the birth — and only halfway through her sentence — because of good behavior and her nonviolent drug offense. She did not see Jayden, who was given to Brawley’s mother, until her release.

Today, she’s living in Bremerton and has since had a baby girl. Jayden, she said, is healthy



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