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Nevada: Federal Suit over Shackling of Pregnant Prisoner Settles for $130,000 and Policy Changes

Nevada: Federal Suit over Shackling of Pregnant Prisoner Settles for $130,000 and Policy Changes

by Matt Clarke

On February 4, 2014, the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a former prisoner who was shackled during her pregnancy. The Board of State Prison Commissioners later approved regulations that restrict the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners and give them access to breast pumps.

Valerie Nabors, formerly incarcerated at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center (FMWCC), was assisted by ACLU of Nevada attorneys Staci J. Pratt, Allen Lichtenstein and Katrina Rogers, who filed a civil rights complaint on her behalf alleging that DOC employees violated her state and federal constitutional rights and committed state torts when they shackled her while she was pregnant in 2011, against the wishes of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and doctors. The defendants included the head of the DOC, the warden at FMWCC and various prison employees.

The lawsuit alleged that DOC staff members handcuffed Nabors and placed shackles on her legs after she went into labor and was about to be transported to a hospital in an ambulance despite the EMTs’ statement that such restraints were unnecessary and would interfere with her medical treatment. She was similarly shackled at the hospital and the leg shackles caused her to stumble while getting off a gurney. The restraints remained on until just before she gave birth; she was then re-shackled within ten minutes of delivery. The shackles prevented her from medically-recommended post-partum ambulation.

After delivery, Nabors required physical therapy to regain her sense of balance and to address severe pelvic pain. DOC employees refused to unshackle her when her physical therapist told her to walk up and down the corridor. Further examination revealed that Nabors suffered multiple pulled groin muscles and separation of the normally-joined pelvic bones. No such injuries had occurred during her three previous pregnancies.

When Nabors returned to FMWCC, prison officials confiscated her medically-prescribed breast milk pump. The pump was necessary to prevent painfully engorged breasts and mastitis, an extremely painful infection of the breast tissue. Without the pump her breasts became engorged with milk and painful. Prison medical officials refused to do anything beyond giving her an elastic bandage to bind her breasts.

Nabors remained in pain due to engorgement for several weeks. Her grievance over the confiscation of the breast pump was denied, and she developed a knot in a milk duct. She was released from prison in May 2012 after finishing a 12 to 30-month sentence for grand larceny.

The defendants agreed to settle the lawsuit for $80,000 plus attorney fees of $50,000. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.30]. As part of the settlement, they also agreed to have the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners consider and review proposed regulations to limit the use of restraints on pregnant women and authorize the use of medically-prescribed breast milk pumps. See: Nabors v. Nevada Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (D. NV), Case No. 2:12-cv-01044-LRH-VCF.

In March 2014, the Board of Prison Commissioners approved two new regulations related to the treatment of pregnant prisoners. Pursuant to one policy, the use of restraints is limited to handcuffs for prisoners who are pregnant, and no restraints are allowed once a prisoner is in labor or post-delivery recovery unless she poses a “serious and immediate threat of harm” or is a “substantial flight risk.” The second new policy allows prisoners who have given birth to have access to a breast pump.

“These regulations represent a new stage in the treatment of reproductive justice issues in women’s prisons,” said Pratt, the ACLU of Nevada’s legal director. “Through this work, women need no longer face the terror of enduring leg shackles while in labor or delivery. In addition, we have assured that their newborns can have access to the health benefits of breast milk.”

At least 21 states have enacted rules or policies limiting the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners, although recent reports from New York and Pennsylvania indicate some women are still shackled while pregnant despite such policies.

Additional sources: Las Vegas Review-Journal, New York Times,

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Related legal case

Nabors v. Nevada Department of Corrections