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$4.1 Million Settlement for Cook County Jail Prisoners Shacked During Labor

Cook County Illinois has agreed to pay a $4.1 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit that challenged the shackling of pregnant prisoners at the Cook County Jail during labor, delivery or after giving birth, from December 4, 2006 through February 14, 2011.

The May 2012 settlement provides cash payments for female prisoners who were in the custody of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office during the relevant time period; transported while in restraints to a hospital for the purpose of delivering a child; and/or shackled during labor, delivery or recovery following delivery.

The civil rights complaint alleged that the Sheriff’s “shackling policy implements a barbaric practice that needlessly inflicts excruciating pain and humiliation,” which placed pregnant prisoners’ health and safety at an obvious and substantial risk of harm. The lawsuit noted that Illinois law prohibited the shackling policy while it was in effect. See: 55 ILCS 5/3-15003.6.

Even after learning that the policy violated state law and prisoners’ constitutional rights, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart didn’t end the policy for another year. The complaint detailed the suffering of 17 prisoners who were shackled during labor, delivery or after giving birth.

The settlement provides that class counsel, Chicago attorneys Thomas G. Morrissey and Kenneth N. Flaxman, will receive 25% of the settlement, or $1.025 million in attorney fees and costs. The remainder shall be distributed among the class members based on the nature and extent of the restraints used during labor and post-delivery recovery.

The amount of each payment will be based on an award of points, ranging from a minimum of one to a maximum of nine. One point will be awarded for prisoners who were 1) restrained while transported to a hospital but did not give birth; 2) restrained while transported to a hospital and gave birth; 3) restrained during post-delivery recovery; 4) a named party; or 5) a class representative. Two points will be awarded for prisoners who were restrained for thirty or more minutes while in labor at a hospital or who were shackled while giving birth.

The value of each point was set at $10,000; a class member’s number of points will be multiplied by that value to determine her total award. The district court entered an order granting final approval of the settlement on August 30, 2012. See: Zaborowski v. Sheriff of Cook County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:08-cv-06946.

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Related legal case

Zaborowski v. Sheriff of Cook County