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Originally published Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 5:45 PM

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WA Corrections sued for shackling pregnant woman

A former inmate at a Washington state women's prison sued the state Thursday, saying her constitutional rights were violated when she was shackled while in labor.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

A former inmate at a Washington state women's prison sued the state Thursday, saying her constitutional rights were violated when she was shackled while in labor.

Seattle-based women's rights organization Legal Voice filed the federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections on behalf of Casandra Brawley, who was an inmate at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor until May 2007.

"Yeah, I've made some mistakes and wrong decisions," Brawley said Thursday of the shoplifting conviction that sent her to prison. "But I am still a person and I didn't feel like I should be treated like a caged animal."

Sara Ainsworth, an attorney at Legal Voice representing Brawley, said the department violated both the U.S. and state constitutions when it chained Brawley when she went into labor in April 2007.

"Even though someone is incarcerated, they shouldn't lose their human rights," she said.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections said they had not yet seen the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, and could not immediately comment on the specific accusations.

In a written statement, Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson said the agency is "dedicated to treating all offenders with respect and dignity and not subjecting them to conditions or circumstances that unnecessarily threaten their safety or well being."

Ainsworth said Brawley is seeking unspecified damages for emotional suffering, and wants to ensure that the state Department of Corrections stops shackling pregnant women.

Brawley said she knows of at least one other pregnant inmate who was shackled.

Brawley said she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach during transportation to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma, then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed throughout several hours of labor.

The suit alleges her restraints were removed during an emergency cesarean section only after a physician insisted, but then were replaced after the procedure.

"During her entire hospitalization - even though walking is extremely difficult in the first few days after a cesarean section - Ms. Brawley was kept shackled to a hospital bed by the metal leg restraint and guarded by a DOC corrections officer 24 hours per day," the lawsuit says.

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While walking the halls of the hospital during her recovery, her ankles were shackled together, something Brawley said was "embarrassing and stressful."

Brawley's attorneys stressed their client was not a danger to anyone, and was a good inmate who was released after seven months of her 14-month sentence.

Peterson said the department would conduct a review of all records surround Brawley's medical care.

Peterson said that previous and current policies bar restraining female offenders during labor or delivery.

"We will be able to comment further after we have received the complaint and conduct our own review of the relevant facts," Peterson said.

Brawley currently lives with her 2-year-old son, his father, and their 7-month-old baby in Bremerton.

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On the Net:

Washington state Department of Corrections: http://www.doc.wa.gov

Legal Voice: http://www.nwwlc.org

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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