Pregnant Inmate Sues After Being Forced to Wear Shackles During Labor

Former inmate, Valerie Nabors, sues after having to wear shackles during labor

June 28, 2012, 4:00 PM

June 29, 2012— -- Valerie Nabors gave birth to her fourth child, a healthy baby girl, last October, but within 10 minutes of delivery, she charges, her ankles were shackled to her hospital bed and she was not allowed to walk.

Nabors, a prison inmate at the time, complains her legs were shackled during labor, much to doctors' dismay, and against Nevada state law.

Nabors filed a lawsuit June 20 against the Nevada Department of Corrections claiming cruel and unusual punishment.

Nabors, from Clark County, Nev., was an inmate at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center (FMWCC) Oct. 19, 2011 when she went into labor, according to the lawsuit. Nabors served a 12-to-30 month sentence from January 2011 to January 2012 for attempting to steal about $300 worth of casino chips.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union. Nabors is suing the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC), its director and several top officers, as well as officials of the FMWCC.

"Ms. Nabors suffered severe and extreme emotional distress as a result of being shackled during the delivery of her child," the lawsuit says.

The Nevada Department of Corrections has no comment regarding the lawsuit at this time, a spokesman told

"I think we have the right to expect more as women and the right to expect more from society," Staci Pratt of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada told

Nabors, 30, was taken to the University Medical Center at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 19. As the ambulance was pulling out of the main gates of the prison, Sgt. Daniel Tracey "came running out of the facility" with shackles which were closed around Nabors' ankles, the lawsuit says.

According to Nevada state law, no restraints of any kind may be used on an inmate who is in labor, delivering her baby or recovering from delivery unless she presents a serious harm to herself or others or presents a substantial flight risk.

"She was not considered a flight risk," Pratt, who described her client as a "non-violent offender," told "She was not considered a danger."

The ambulance supervisor informed Tracey the medical team could not work under these conditions, according to the lawsuit. Tracey said that he had to shackle her legs and refused to remove them.

"The Commanding Officer directly ignored and resisted the medical staff's orders for Ms. Nabors therapy and care," the lawsuit says.

The suit says Nabors had been taken to the hospital three times before for "false labor" and had never been shackled.

When Nabors arrived at the hospital, nurses questioned the need for the shackles. When Nabors had to change into a hospital gown, officers refused to remove the shackles, according to the lawsuit. Nabors stumbled while getting off the stretcher. The shackles were removed only while she changed in the restroom.

After changing into a gown, officers tried to replace the shackles but a nurse stopped them, saying Nabors was about to receive an epidural and that "it would make medical history" if she attempted to get away, the lawsuit says.

During the officer shift change, the commanding officer decided to keep only one officer on duty overnight with Nabors because she was not considered a "high flight risk" inmate, the lawsuit claims.

Within 10 minutes after she gave birth, Nabors was again shackled, her lawyer said.

"It's a kind of almost torture that you imagine happening in medieval times not in present day."

X-rays shortly after delivery revealed Nabors had suffered a separation of normally joined pubic bones. External forces such as stumbling while shackled and undergoing labor can produce this type of injury, the lawsuit says. Nabors also pulled several muscles in her groin, causing her significant pain, the lawsuit states. She could not walk correctly for two weeks. Nabors did not experience this type of pain after the birth of her other three children. The lawsuit alleges that Nabors' groin damage was caused by the shackling during labor.

Before leaving the hospital, doctors prescribed physical therapy to help with Nabors' pain. But when a therapist asked Nabors to walk up and down a hallway, officers again refused to remove the shackles, according to the lawsuit.

Upon returning to prison after the birth, Nabors' doctor recommended she use a breast pump because she was no longer allowed to nurse her daughter. When she returned to FMWCC, the breast pump was confiscated, the lawsuit says.

After enduring 12 hours of significant pain, the pump was returned to her, only to be taken again the next day. Nabors sought medical attention when her breasts became extremely painful. The nurse on duty gave her ACE bandages to wrap her breasts. The lawsuit claims Nabors suffered pronounced pain and developed a clogged milk duct from not using the pump.

Nabors is seeking damages for the punishment. She was released from Jean Conservation Camp on May 11, 2012. She has returned to the community and is taking care of her daughter, Pratt said.

"In sum, this is a case of shocking and deliberate indifference to the wholly obvious, serious medical needs of Valerie Nabors and the child she was about to deliver," the lawsuit states.

Restraining a pregnant woman by the arms, legs or belly can pose significant medical risks to her and her unborn child, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an ob-gyn at UC San Francisco who cares for incarcerated women at the San Francisco County Jail, told ABC News in 2010. Pregnant women have a different center of gravity from others and are more prone to tripping and falling. Shackling their arms or ankles could increase their risk of falling on their bellies, which could jeopardize the baby's health.

As of March 2012, 15 states have passed legislation that limit or ban the shackling of women during labor and delivery.

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