Cajúne v. Lake County

April 6, 2011

 

In March 2009, Bethany Cajúne voluntarily reported to Lake County Detention Facility in Montana 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, 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. What Cajúne didn’t know when she reported to the facility was that detention officials would repeatedly withhold her medication even as they callously stood by and watched her condition dangerously deteriorate.

Despite several attempts by Cajúne’s treating physician and drug treatment counselor to ensure that Cajúne continue receiving Suboxone, a medication that suppresses withdrawal symptoms, facility officials, including its chief medical doctor, 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 Cajúne’s health and pregnancy, including miscarriage, the facility continued to deny Cajúne her medication. It took the intervention of a public defender to secure her release so that she could resume the treatment. In the end, Lake County knowingly put Cajúne’s health and her pregnancy at severe risk for nine days.

No woman should be punished with the threat of miscarriage. But, like Cajúne, pregnant women in prisons and jails across the country are regularly subject to inhumane, unconstitutional, and medically unsafe treatment.

The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project and the ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cajúne, asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to require the Lake County Detention Facility to compensate Cajúne 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.

Status: VICTORY! A settlement agreement with the county includes adoption of a new policy that ensures the provision of necessary medical care for pregnant inmates with opiate dependency. It also requires the county to train its staff on implementation of the policy and to fully inform all pregnant inmates about the policy.

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