Tycko & Zavareei LLP, Rights Behind Bars, UNC Civil Rights Clinic, and Crowell & Moring LLP filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against state prison officials for the barbaric treatment they imposed on Tracey Edwards during her pregnancy, labor and postpartum recovery in 2019 and 2020.
“Ms. Edwards was shackled cruelly and unnecessarily throughout this vulnerable period,” noted plaintiff’s attorney Hassan Zavareei. “She experienced pain and degradation, and the chains interfered with her ability to bond with her newborn. Compounding her trauma, she was denied medications and other desperately needed treatment to keep her mental health stable when she returned from the hospital to the prison.”
Lauren Kuhlik, Tycko & Zavareei associate, added, “Our client’s inhumane treatment violated clearly established constitutional law, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Ms. Edwards’s suffering is not unique. Pregnant and postpartum individuals are routinely mistreated in prisons and jails across the United States.
The North Carolina legislature just passed a bill that limits shackling during pregnancy, aligning with the policies of numerous states and the federal government. But even a law may not be enough to prevent shackling.
“We are pleased,” said attorney Zavareei, “that the legislature has taken this step. No one should be subjected to the torture that our client endured. Since her treatment violated existing departmental policy, we need to make sure we hold prison officials accountable in the courthouse as well as in the statehouse.”
The North Carolina lawsuit demands changes to the prison’s policies plus money damages for Ms. Edwards, to compensate for the cruelty she was forced to endure.
“We hope,” said Oren Nimni, Litigation Director at Rights Behind Bars, “that this lawsuit sheds light on the terrible conditions that are imposed on incarcerated pregnant and postpartum individuals. We fully support legislation that would limit incarceration of this vulnerable population in order to protect their health and safety.”