PITTSBURGH (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state's second-largest county for putting pregnant inmates in solitary confinement in its jail.
The federal lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of five pregnant women. Four of the women are or recently were in the Pittsburgh jail, and the fifth is at risk of being jailed if she violates terms of her house arrest.
Online court records show at least three of the pregnant women have recent drug-related offenses or probation violations for drug-related crimes, though it couldn't immediately be determined whether any of the drug offenses or probation violations occurred once the women were pregnant.
"It is widely recognized that placing pregnant women in solitary confinement is extremely dangerous — for both mother and child," said attorney David Fawcett, who is donating his time to assist the ACLU in the lawsuit. "The routine and thoughtless use of this practice is a real black mark on our county and must end now."
The U.S. Department of Justice has advised against placing pregnant women in solitary confinement except in rare circumstances. The lawsuit contends pregnant women in the Allegheny County jail are sometimes sent to solitary for minor rule violations without proper disciplinary hearings: One pregnant plaintiff was punished for having three pairs of shoes instead of just the two allowed by the jail.
Allegheny County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs spent between six and 22 days in solitary, and one woman showered just twice during a 10-day stint, the lawsuit contends.
Solitary inmates are confined to cells between 22 and 24 hours a day, shower infrequently and are denied other privileges. In one instance, two pregnant women in solitary shared a cell, but because pregnant inmates can't sleep on the top bunk for safety reasons one slept on the bottom bunk while the other slept on the floor, the lawsuit contends.
When one plaintiff filed a grievance in June claiming "serious psychological stress, pain and anxiety" the grievance was dismissed weeks later with this written response: "If this is a problem don't come to jail."
The lawsuit seeks to end the practice and bolster the diets of pregnant inmates, who allege they're often hungry and not given prenatal vitamins and medications.