Roughly 80 female plaintiffs have been granted a $4.1 million settlement in a class action lawsuit against Cook County Jail alleging that the women were shackled while they were giving birth and recovering from labor, despite a state law that forbids the practice.
A federal judge gave preliminary approval to the settlement Tuesday, which will award each woman around $35,000, according to NBC Chicago. Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's office, called the settlement "probably the most fair and efficient way to end this lawsuit and to prevent further cost to taxpayers."
Illinois was the first state to ban prisons from shackling female inmates in labor or en route to a hospital to give birth, according to the Chicago Tribune, but the practice continued at the Cook County Jail until February 2011, with a new policy banning even handcuffs on pregnant women that don't pose a flight risk.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged they were restrained during births between September 2007 and June 2010, according to the Bellingham Herald. Any women who gave birth in the jail since Dec. 4, 2006 were invited to join the suit.
Simone Jackson, one of the women named in the suit, told the Associated Press her right wrist and ankle were chained to her hospital bed throughout the birth of her seventh child.
"I thought, 'I'm in slavery,'" Jackson said in 2009.
In late 2010, Cook County Jail launched its MOM’s Program, a "24-bed off-site therapeutic community treatment program focusing on substance abuse and mental health disorders for pregnant and postpartum females and their preschool age children."
(See video below for more on the MOM's Program.)
"This isn't just us taking the women who are pregnant and putting them in one living unit, and then calling it a day," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says in a video tour of the program. "We're trying to make it so that when the children are born, they're given every opportunity in life to be a success."
The proposed settlement is the first of its kind in the U.S. to compensate women for such treatment, according to ABC Chicago. The settlement will be awarded unless any objections are raised.