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Pennsylvania: Settlement Changes Jail’s Policy for Treatment of Pregnant Prisoners

A settlement agreement has been reached that improves the conditions of confinement for pregnant women held at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The agreement ends the routine placement of pregnant prisoners into solitary confinement.

The civil rights complaint, filed in December 2016, named five plaintiffs – all pregnant women who were subjected to solitary confinement or deprived of adequate food to meet their nutritional needs. ACJ’s practice was to put pregnant prisoners in solitary for extended periods of time “based upon allegations of minor, non-violent offenses,” the complaint stated.

For example, plaintiff Jill Hendricks spent nine days in segregation “for possession of a library book” that contained pictures and envelopes placed there by another prisoner who had previously borrowed the book. Plaintiff Merisha Tuzlic spent 11 days in solitary for possessing three pairs of shoes instead of two.

Solitary conditions at ACJ were harsh and gave no regard to the needs of pregnant women. Tuzlic served another stint in solitary that lasted 22 days. During that period she was allowed to shower only twice, was not allowed any of her personal items such as writing materials or books, and no out-of-cell recreation or exercise was offered.

While sitting idly in jail, Tuzlic was, like other pregnant prisoners, “frequently hungry and undernourished” due to the “nutritionally inadequate” pregnancy diet. The complaint alleged prisoners often were not provided full portions of food or portions were completely missing. They were not given prenatal vitamins or calcium supplements.

Tuzlic sent a request to Warden Orlando Harper concerning the conditions she was enduring and to inform him that she had a high risk pregnancy. His response, “If this is a problem, don’t come to jail,” was attached to the complaint as an exhibit.

The “problem” was resolved through a settlement agreement entered in November 2017 that requires jail officials to pay $90,000 for the prisoners’ attorney fees and costs, and to implement a new policy at the ACJ.

The policy addresses care for pregnant women, including the availability of elective pregnancy termination. If termination is chosen, the prisoner will be responsible for all associated costs. Further, pregnant prisoners will receive proper diets and “prenatal vitamins and supplements as prescribed ... on a daily basis without exception.”

Solitary confinement will be used only in “rare cases,” with the goal of eliminating solitary for pregnant women. The new policy requires an informal hearing and options for privilege restrictions while the prisoner remains in general population.

The plaintiffs were represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and the law firm of Reed Smith LLP. See: Seitz v. Allegheny County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:16-cv-01879-CRE. 


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Related legal case

Seitz v. Allegheny County