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Systemic Understaffing, Mental Illness Stigma Played Role In Prison Birth, Lawsuit Alleges

Kelan Lyons
CT Mirror
"No mother should have to give birth in inhuman conditions," said Karine Laboy, Tianna's mother.

Tianna Laboy spent nearly 30 days at an inpatient mental health treatment program before she was admitted to York Correctional Institution in August 2017. When she arrived at the Niantic prison, officials put her in the mental health infirmary.

New filings in her civil lawsuit allege that her placement there “guaranteed she would be seen in a negative, stigmatized manner,” leading medical personnel to not take her complaints seriously. That stigma, her lawyers argue, coupled with chronic understaffing of mental health and medical personnel, a gynecologist who was not on call on a critical night, and other factors led to Laboy delivering her child in her cell. The complaint also cites a lack of employee training on how to identify preterm labor and two prison lieutenants’ false claims that they had toured the unit where Laboy was imprisoned.

Laboy repeatedly told corrections staff that she had stomach pains between Feb. 6 and Feb. 13, 2018. Medical workers sent her back to her cell with a pitcher of ice water and a hot cloth.

Early in the morning of Feb. 13, Laboy got up to use the toilet and delivered her baby into the bowl. Her cellmate helped take the baby out of the toilet and wrapped her in a towel. A correction officer eventually found her standing over a pool of blood holding a crying infant who had been born about a month premature.

A filing submitted to the court on Sept. 1 states that Laboy’s baby has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and does not speak.

Issues with staffing go beyond mental health services, the lawsuit alleges. When Laboy went into labor, York Correctional had one gynecologist who did not work nights or weekends and wasn’t required to be “on call” when not at the prison. An internal report found that York’s nurses were not trained on how to deliver preterm babies, leaving Laboy on her own the night she was in labor.

The new legal motions extend blame beyond those who were, or weren’t, in the building the night Laboy delivered her child. Several years before Laboy was incarcerated, the Department of Correction commissioner at the time, Scott Semple, sent a letter to a doctor at UConn Medical Center’s Correctional Managed Health Care complaining about their understaffing of the mental health infirmary at York. Semple had been made aware of the concerns when the DOC’s mental health director saw there were staffing problems during a tour of the correctional facility the prior month.

The lawsuit claims Semple never took reasonable action to ensure sufficient staffing levels at the mental health infirmary in the women’s prison, reflecting systemic issues that ultimately harmed Laboy and her child a few years later.

Laboy and her mother filed a lawsuit in March 2019. Advocates, faith leaders, and family members — including Laboy’s 2-year-old child, dressed in an oversized T-shirt that read “Justice for Tianna” — gathered at New Britain Central Park Thursday morning to call on Attorney General William Tong to provide redress for the wrongs done to Laboy.

“Everybody knows that what happened to Tianna is grotesque, yet here we are still litigating,” Kenneth J. Krayeske, one of Laboy’s attorneys, told the crowd.

Laboy’s cellmate was so helpful the night she gave birth, Krayeske continued, that York’s warden called a judge and asked for leniency, cutting a year off her sentence. Yet Laboy continues to be incarcerated on a seven-year sentence, he said, held in a cell by herself under behavioral observation.

“My client, again, has found herself in extraordinary punitive measures because of the trauma that she has suffered through,” said Krayeske.

Tianna’s mother, Karine, is taking care of the toddler, her first granddaughter. She recalled how Tianna was a teenager when she was admitted to York, how she worried about the medical care her daughter would receive there. The two would talk on the phone in the six months Tianna spent locked up before she went into labor. Tianna would tell her how she didn’t feel like she was receiving proper medical care.

“During this brief call I would give Tianna birth tips. She was a first-time mom. And I remember when I had her, I was her age,” Karine said. “I never imagined that all those tips that I was giving my daughter would play a big role in my granddaughter’s delivery.”

A spokesperson for the DOC said the agency could not comment on ongoing litigation.

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