ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Grossly Inadequate Conditions At Canyon County Jail

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Monica Hopkins, ACLU of Idaho, (208) 344-9750, ext. 203; mhopkins@acluidaho.org

ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Grossly Inadequate Conditions At Canyon County Jail

Severe Overcrowding Forces Prisoners To Sleep On Floor, Live In Unsanitary Facilities

BOISE, ID - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho today filed a
class-action federal lawsuit challenging the indecent, cruel and
inhumane conditions that exist at the Dale G. Haile Detention Center,
one of three structures that comprise the Canyon County Jail in
Caldwell, Idaho.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for
the District of Idaho, the lawsuit charges that overcrowding is so
severe at the center that prisoners are frequently forced to sleep on
the floor and shower in facilities teeming with toxic mold and rust.

“The conditions prisoners at the
Haile Detention Center are forced to live in are abhorrent and fall far
short of constitutional requirements,” said Stephen Pevar, a senior
staff attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “The overcrowding
is so overwhelming that it taxes every aspect of the facility –
including ventilation, staffing and plumbing – past the breaking point.
Sheriff Chris Smith inherited a bad jail, and despite some fine efforts
on his part conditions remain overcrowded and generally deplorable. All
else has failed which is why this lawsuit is necessary.”

According to the lawsuit, the
center’s population consistently exceeds its designated capacity by
more than 100 prisoners, and despite the fact that it has over 100 more
beds than allowed under Idaho Sherriff Association (ISA) Standards,
there are often not enough beds to accommodate every prisoner, forcing
many to sleep on the ground.

Amanda Davis, one of six named
plaintiffs in the lawsuit, entered the detention center late last year
when she was five months pregnant. There was no empty bed available for
her to sleep on so a sheriff’s deputy assigned her to a place on the
cold cement floor. She was given one thin mattress to sleep on, and
when she requested a second mattress for additional support, the jail’s
medical staff informed her that pregnant women qualify for a second
mattress only when they enter their third trimester.

The severe overcrowding also limits
the ability of the detention center’s staff to adequately classify
prisoners. Thus, prisoners who should be kept apart because of their
age, crime, predatory nature or predilection for violence often are
housed together, increasing the risk of violence in the detention
center.

In their 2007 inspection report, the
ISA determined “overcrowding would seem to be the inherent problem that
creates security issues, tasks the staff and the physical plant [and]
makes it very difficult to keep up maintenance, cleaning and
refurbishment of the facility.” This report noted these conditions are
“the basis for the liability that the County shoulders and an ongoing
reason for concern.” The ISA’s 2008 inspection report reiterated that
conclusion.

“No one should be forced to live in
the kind of overcrowded conditions that exist in some of our jails and
prisons across the state,” said Lea C. Cooper, staff attorney with the
ACLU of Idaho, who is co-counsel on the case. “It is imperative that
our state and local leaders commit themselves to addressing this
problem and ensuring that the state’s prisoners are provided living
conditions that meet constitutional minimums.”

The lawsuit also charges that the
detention center suffers from inadequate ventilation and temperature
control, inadequate fire protection and inadequate plumbing.

Today’s lawsuit comes just one week
after more than 100 prisoners rioted at the Idaho State Correctional
Institution following their transfer to temporary housing to
accommodate the return of 300 state prisoners who had been housed in
Texas because of a lack of space in Idaho.

“The kinds of conditions that exist
at the Haile Detention center should force all of us to consider the
impact of our society’s over-reliance on incarceration,” said Monica
Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho. “A commitment to
policies that emphasize alternatives to incarceration – especially for
first-time and non-violent offenders – not only would be more humane
but economically sound as well.”

Lawyers on the case include Pevar, Cooper and ACLU cooperating attorney Joe Miller.

A copy of the complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/gen/38272lgl20090109.html

Additional information about the ACLU is available online at: www.aclu.org

Additional information about the ACLU of Idaho is available online at: www.acluidaho.org

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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