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Pregnant inmates sometimes mistreated in Montana jails, ACLU says

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - Pregnant inmates in Montana's county jails have at times been shackled while in labor or forced to deliver their babies in detention without medical assistance, a civil rights group said in a report issued on Thursday.

The report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana highlights what it says are humiliating and unsafe practices tied to the treatment of pregnant inmates that have been broadly abandoned elsewhere in the nation but remain in place at some Montana detention centers.

"Montana jails are woefully lacking in policies that will ensure pregnant prisoners get the medical care they need and are protected from abusive practices like shackling," ACLU of Montana head Scott Crichton said.

The study cites a woman who was forced to deliver her daughter on an unsanitary booking room floor of the Yellowstone County Detention Facility in Billings in 2012 after several requests for medical aid were ignored.

Yellowstone County jail officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The report also pointed to a 2008 case in which county detention officers from western Montana chained the leg of a hospitalized inmate to her bed during delivery despite an epidural that paralyzed her from the waist down, even after a nurse questioned the need for restraints.

The percentage of incarcerated women in Montana is twice the national average, with more than 4,000 women booked into county jails in 2011, mostly non-violent offenders of reproductive age, according to the report.

The state has no official oversight of county jails. But complaints about treatment of pregnant and other special-needs inmates in those facilities led to the creation more than a year ago of a jail advisory panel whose members include the Montana Association of Counties and the ACLU of Montana.

That panel distributed recommended practices to county detention centers in the spring modeled after those endorsed by the American Correctional Association, said Jim Muskovich, a safety officer with the Montana Association of Counties.

"County jails are moving forward to address some of the issues that are long-standing in Montana," he said. Included in the voluntary standards is a ban on leg irons or shackles for inmates giving birth.

The ACLU found many county jails did not have written policies concerning restraints for pregnant inmates or delivery practices, while roughly a third had formal policies spelling out prenatal and postpartum care for those prisoners.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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