Former Wash. inmate sues state for labor shackling
OLYMPIA, Wash. — A former Washington state prison inmate who says she was shackled during childbirth sued the state Thursday, saying her constitutional rights were violated.
Seattle-based women’s rights organization Legal Voice filed the federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections on behalf of Casandra Brawley, who was four months pregnant when she was jailed at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor in December 2006.
Brawley said she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach during transportation to the hospital, then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed throughout several hours of labor.
The suit alleges her restraints were removed during an emergency cesarean section only after a physician insisted, but then were replaced after the procedure.
“Yeah, I’ve made some mistakes and wrong decisions,” Brawley said Thursday of the shoplifting conviction that sent her to prison. “But I am still a person and I didn’t feel like I should be treated like a caged animal.”
In a written statement, Maria Peterson, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the agency is “dedicated to treating all offenders with respect and dignity and not subjecting them to conditions or circumstances that unnecessarily threaten their safety or well being.”
Brawley was released in May 2007.
Sara Ainsworth, an attorney at Legal Voice representing Brawley, said the department violated both the U.S. and state constitutions when it chained Brawley when she went into labor in April 2007.
Ainsworth said Brawley is seeking unspecified damages for emotional suffering, and wants to ensure that the state Department of Corrections stops shackling pregnant women.
“During her entire hospitalization — even though walking is extremely difficult in the first few days after a cesarean section — Ms. Brawley was kept shackled to a hospital bed by the metal leg restraint and guarded by a DOC corrections officer 24 hours per day,” the lawsuit says.
While walking the halls of the hospital during her recovery, her ankles were shackled together, which Brawley said was “embarrassing and stressful.”
Brawley’s attorneys said their client was not a danger to anyone, and was a good inmate who was released midway through her 14-month sentence.
Brawley lives with her 2-year-old son, his father, and their 7-month-old baby in Bremerton.
On the Net:
Washington state Department of Corrections: www.doc.wa.gov
Legal Voice: www.nwwlc.org