Montana Mother Asks Court To Remedy Mistreatment Of Pregnant Inmates By Detention Facility

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
November 19, 2009 2:07 pm

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MISSOULA, MT – A Montana mother denied prescribed medication while serving time in jail for traffic violations asked a federal court today to require the Lake County Detention Facility to compensate her for the physical and emotional suffering she endured while in the facility’s custody and to declare unconstitutional the denial of needed medical care to pregnant inmates. Bethany Cajúne is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Montana.

“I was afraid my baby might die because Lake County Detention Facility was denying me treatment,” said Bethany Cajúne. “No one should go through what I went through. I’ve brought this case to make sure it doesn’t happen to another woman.”

In March 2009, Cajúne voluntarily reported to Lake County Detention Facility to complete an outstanding short-term sentence for traffic violations. At that time, she was approximately four to five months pregnant, raising five small children at home and attending GED classes four days a week. She was also nearing a year of successful participation in a medication-treatment program for a diagnosed addiction to opioid drugs. Despite attempts by Cajúne’s treating physician and drug treatment counselor to ensure that Cajúne continue receiving Suboxone, a medication that suppresses withdrawal symptoms, the facility denied her this care. As a result, Cajúne suffered complete and abrupt withdrawal, experienced constant vomiting, diarrhea, rapid weight loss, dehydration, and other withdrawal symptoms, all extremely dangerous during pregnancy. Despite repeated warnings of the serious risk abrupt withdrawal posed to her health and pregnancy, including miscarriage, the facility continued to deny Cajúne her medication. It took the intervention of a public defender to secure Cajúne’s release after nine days of being denied care so that she could resume the treatment.

“Lake County Detention Facility showed a dangerous and callous disregard for Bethany Cajúne’s health and rights when it repeatedly refused to provide her with care critical to the safety of her pregnancy,” said Diana Kasdan, Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Women do not lose their right to safely carry their pregnancies to term when they are incarcerated, and they certainly cannot be denied treatment for serious medical needs. Lake County knowingly put Ms. Cajúne’s health and the health of her pregnancy at severe risk by refusing her treatment.”

The Lake County Detention Facility’s treatment of Cajúne violated established standards of care for pregnant women who are receiving treatment for opioid addiction. Medical experts, the federal government, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care uniformly advise that pregnant patients should not be withdrawn from opioid treatment.

The case is Cajúne v. Lake County. Lawyers on the case include Betsy Griffing, ACLU of Montana Legal Director, and Jennifer Giuttari, ACLU of Montana Staff Attorney; and Kasdan, Staff Attorney, and Talcott Camp, Deputy Director, ACLU Foundation.

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