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Mandatory Inmate Pregnancy Tests To End In Alameda County Jails

The ACLU of Northern California settled a lawsuit this week, brought against the Alameda County Sheriff and their contracted inmate medical provider, Corizon Health Services. The ACLU sued the sheriff and Corizon in June of last year, challenging a policy that required all women in custody under 60 years of age to submit to a pregnancy test.

Alameda County may have been the only county in the state with such a policy. The ACLU argued the mandatory pregnancy tests, which began in December 2010, “violated a person’s legally protected right to privacy, constituted an unlawful search and seizure, and violated laws requiring jails to allow inmates to refuse non-emergency medical care.”

According to the settlement terms, Corizon and the Alameda County Sheriff will give inmates the option of declining pregnancy tests, and place signs in the nurces office and update the inmate handbook advising inmates of the policy change. They will also have a policy “clarifying that deputies and other nonmedical staff shall not conduct pregnancy testing.”

There are also strict guidelines for how medical personnel are allowed to offer pregnancy tests, including specifically-worded questions they are to ask inmates upon intake. The settlement requires staff undergo training in these new policy guidelines.

The lawsuit centered on three cases involving citizens forced to take pregnancy tests in Alameda County jails. Activist Nancy Mancias was arrested during a peaceful protest in 2012 and forced to submit to  a pregnancy test at the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility. Mancias complied with the mandatory pregnancy test after an officer threatened to send her to the Santa Rita Jail, 30 miles away, if she didn’t. The lawsuit states Mancias “stepped behind a low partition that reached only to her waist level and urinated into a the sample cup, while the officer turned her back.”

69-year-old Susan Harman was required to submit to a pregnancy test after she was arrested at a political demonstration in the wake of Oscar Grant’s murder by transit officer Johannes Meserhle in 2010. At Glenn E. Dyer, “[an] officer took her, along with two other women, to a bathroom and demanded that she urinate in a cup. Ms. Harman told the officer that she was 69 years old and could not possibly be pregnant, but the officer required her to take the test anyway.”

Meanwhile, despite alerting jail staff to her diabetes, no one responded to Harman’s requests for insulin.

A third plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe “to avoid additional invasions of her privacy,” was forced to take a pregnancy test at the Santa Rita Jail after she was arrested for allegedly obstructing a peace officer following a traffic stop. She is married with two children and knew she was not pregnant, but took the test because she believed she had to.

The women all expressed humiliation and distress for having to take the tests. The lawsuit explains in greater detail why this policy is so invasive for women in custody:

By isolating the pregnancy test and making it mandatory … the sheriff’s policy publicly intrudes into one of the most intimate and private areas of a person’s life – reproductive decisionmaking. As a result, female arrestees in Alameda County suffer humiliation and even greater distress, when, for example, they have to take the pregnancy test despite knowing that are not able to become pregnant due to age or infertility; they did not know they were pregnant and have to receive that information from someone other than a trusted healthcare provider; or they were trying to get pregnant and have to receive the news of negative test results from someone other than a trusted healthcare provider.

The agreement covers any complaints that may arise in the future regarding mandatory pregnancy tests which took place before this agreement.

However, the settlement states neither Corizon or the Sheriff admit to any fault, liability, or wrongdoing.

In this March 9, 2012 photograph, a U.S. soldier with an autmatic weapon watches as members of the Afghan National Army set up a check point in a desert valley in Afghanistan. (Flickr / DVIDSHUB / Sgt. Ken Scar)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.