Last week, a jail in Milwaukee, WI was slammed with a class action lawsuit charging its personnel with forcing dozens of women to give birth in shackles.
The suit was filed on March 14 on behalf of 27-year-old inmate Melissa Hall, who was pregnant during her incarceration at Milwaukee County Jail in 2013. Hall is said to have been locked in a "belly-chain" described to have bound her wrists to her waist, while her legs were planked with irons, during labor. The suit alleges that the guards responsible for transporting and keeping watch over Hall would refuse to unshackle her despite the insistence of hospital workers.
As a result of Hall's confinement, doctors say it was difficult for them to give her an epidural and she was forced to endure more pain. The markings of the shackles are reported to have been left on her body. The prison oversaw the same procedure for at least 40 other inmates, the suit alleges; accusing the facility of inflicting "physical pain and suffering" and imposing "unreasonable risks of harm," to the women it lists.
Despite the Wisconsin Department of Corrections having long abolished shackling of inmates during childbirth, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons ridding a similar mandate in the years since, Milwaukee County Jail has continued to enforce a policy which ensures that all detainees remain shackled while receiving medical treatment, including those carrying a pregnancy. Among the defendants named in the suit is famed Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, who oversees the facility. The suit calls Clarke's protocol for chaining women in childbirth "excessive" and “not rationally related to a legitimate, non-punitive purpose.”
It is not the first time that the Milwaukee jail has been taken to court over its handling of child labor among its inmates. Similar lawsuits were filed in 2014 and December of 2016, with one case citing a woman being shackled for the duration of her 21-hour labor and the other respectively citing the death of a newborn alleged to have occurred in part as a result of the labor stress.