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Allegheny County Jail agrees to stop putting pregnant inmates in solitary

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 11:54 a.m.
Allegheny County Jail
JUSTIN MERRIMAN
Allegheny County Jail

The American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement Thursday regarding complaints about the Allegheny County Jail's practice of putting pregnant inmates in solitary confinement.

Four of the five plaintiffs spent time ranging from six to 22 days in solitary confinement while pregnant inside the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh.

“We are grateful that officials in Allegheny County have recognized how harmful it is to keep pregnant women in solitary confinement,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “It's unfortunate that it took a federal lawsuit for them to recognize this, but we're pleased the county has agreed to a progressive, comprehensive and humane policy. People who are incarcerated have a right to basic health care needs and to be treated humanely.”

An Allegheny County spokeswoman declined comment on the settlement.

The women were sent to isolation for minor, nonviolent rules infractions, including possession of too many pairs of shoes in one case and possession of a library book in another, the ACLU said. During that time, they remained in cells for 23 to 24 hours per day and were rarely given the opportunity even to shower.

As part of the settlement, county officials agreed to reformed procedures for housing pregnant inmates. The settlement prohibits the jail from placing pregnant women in restrictive housing except in rare instances in which the inmate poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm, and decisions to place pregnant women in restrictive housing must be reviewed by the deputy warden and cleared by a medical professional, the ACLU said.

Jail administrators agreed to provide appropriate diets for pregnant inmates and will track the distribution of meals, and women who are lactating will be allowed to use a breast pump.

The women are also represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and the Reed Smith law firm

“Allegheny County has taken an important step in joining the national trend that recognizes there are better alternatives to solitary confinement within our prisons and jails,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “These policy changes will provide a healthier and safer environment for pregnant women detained at ACJ.”

Online court records show at least three of the pregnant women have recent drug-related offenses or probation violations for drug-related crimes, according to the Associated Press.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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