Today, ECBAWM and co-counsel Gibbons P.C. announced the settlement of a lawsuit on behalf of the family of a woman who was illegally shackled by Middlesex County, New Jersey officers. The magistrate judge who presided over the case in a New Jersey federal court approved the settlement on September 7, 2022, and the agreement was publicly filed earlier today.
The plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” filed the lawsuit in July 2020. The lawsuit stated that, when she was pregnant and incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail on a non-violent charge, Middlesex County officers and supervisors shackled her by the wrists, ankles, and waist during prenatal visits, while she was being transported to the hospital, throughout the labor process, up until the moment of an emergency Cesarian section, and even while she was recovering and attempting to bond with her newborn son. When she arrived at the hospital, the officers refused to let Ms. Doe contact her family, forcing her to endure this traumatizing experience alone.
Under the settlement, Middlesex County will pay $750,000 to Ms. Doe’s estate, believed to be one of the largest settlements ever obtained by a victim of shackling during labor. Ms. Doe tragically passed away during the litigation, but her mother “Mary Doe” continued to prosecute and settle the case on behalf of Jane Doe’s estate, and specifically her young son.
“Through this litigation, our daughter sought to inform pregnant incarcerated women of their legal rights,” Ms. Doe’s parents said. “She wanted to bring attention to the horrific harm and injustices that she endured and that so many like her continue to endure. We hope this case has served as a wakeup call to Middlesex County and to law enforcement agencies around the country. They should immediately reform their policies and respect the humanity of the people in their custody.”
Medical experts, correctional experts, and maternal and fetal health experts unanimously agree that pregnant women should not be shackled absent the most extraordinary circumstances. The American Medical Association, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all prohibit and/or oppose shackling pregnant women during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery because it poses a grave risk of harm to a pregnant woman’s health, and to the health and safety of her baby.
“According to a 2021 study, there are an estimated 58,000 admissions of pregnant women into U.S. jails and prisons every year, and thousands give birth or have other outcomes while still incarcerated. Our client Jane Doe filed this case to protect the health and dignity of incarcerated pregnant women and their babies. This settlement is an important step in ending shackling of pregnant women,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and one of Jane Doe’s lawyers.
Lawrence S. Lustberg, another of Jane Doe’s lawyers, lauded both her courage in bringing the lawsuit and her parent’s tenacity in continuing it. “Were it not for people like Jane Doe and her parents, these kinds of injustices would never be redressed,” Lustberg said. Lustberg also expressed the Doe family’s appreciation for the Court’s assistance in reaching the settlement.