A federal class action lawsuit on behalf of pregnant inmates held in solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail
Court/Assoc.: U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Attorneys/Firms: Bret Grote (Abolitionist Law Center); Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz (PA Institutional Law Project); David Fawcett (Reed Smith LLP); Sara Rose, Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA)
On December 19, 2016, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, along with the Abolitionist Law Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the law firm of Reed Smith, filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of five inmates who were held in solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) while they were pregnant. The inmates were confined in isolation for such minor offenses as having two pairs of shoes in a cell and possessing a library book. While in solitary, the inmates were denied a proper diet for a pregnant woman and rarely had opportunities to leave their cells for exercise or for showering. The lawsuit asserts that this practice at ACJ is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and asks the court for relief that includes an end to the practice and a requirement that ACJ changes its policies to properly accommodate pregnant inmates.
In November 2017, a settlement was reached with Allegheny County. As part of the settlement, officials from Allegheny County have agreed to numerous new policies and accountability measures that are among the most comprehensive and progressive procedures for housing pregnant inmates in the United States. The settlement prohibits the jail from placing pregnant women in restrictive housing except in rare instances where 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.