ACLU Seeks Immediate Improvement to Grossly Inadequate Conditions at Canyon County Jail

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Monica Hopkins, ACLU of Idaho, (208) 333-8240 or 344-9750, ext. 203; mhopkins@acluidaho.org      
Stephen Pevar, ACLU national, (860) 570-9830
ACLU National Media Relations Office, (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Seeks Immediate Improvement to Grossly Inadequate Conditions at Canyon County Jail

BOISE, Idaho - The
American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho today asked a U.S.
district court judge to order officials in Canyon County, Idaho to
immediately fix a number of serious problems plaguing the Canyon County
Jail in Caldwell that have left a number of prisoners physically sick
and that threaten the health and safety of prisoners and staff. 

Today's motion seeking an immediate
order comes a little more than three months after the ACLU first filed
a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the indecent, cruel and
inhumane conditions at the Canyon County Jail.

"The dangerous conditions that have
been allowed to exist are so hazardous to human life that they must not
be tolerated any longer," said Stephen Pevar, a senior ACLU attorney.
"It is shameful that county officials have allowed such horrendous
conditions to persist."

According to the motion, the jail
has been overcrowded for more than a decade, and in 2008, more than 20
prisoners a day were forced to sleep on the floor due to lack of bed
space. In addition, inspection reports from the Idaho Sheriff's
Association show that the jail is poorly ventilated and unsanitary. In
October 2008, Sheriff Smith notified the County Commissioners that a
"large scale renovation" of the jail was needed, including "deep
sanitizing and cleaning" of the housing unit, that sewer pipes inside
the jail were leaking, and that the jail has a host of other problems.
None of these problems were fixed prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

According to the ACLU's motion,
numerous complaints about the sanitary conditions of the detention
center have been submitted by prisoners in recent months, including one
by a prisoner with severe asthma who said the significant mold in her
housing area was placing her health "in grave danger." Another prisoner
complained that there appear to be "insects breeding in the stagnant
water in the bathroom from the plugged floor drains and cracked floor
seals." And a third complaint from a prisoner highlighted the fact that
a mattress is not sanitized before it is issued to the next prisoner.
These complaints are consistent with findings of the Idaho Sheriff's
Association, which has found the jail in violation of its standards.

"The law couldn't be clearer that
all prisoners in this country have a constitutional right to live in
sanitary conditions," said Lea C. Cooper, staff attorney with the ACLU
of Idaho, who is co-counsel on the case. "Simply put, county officials
are failing to uphold their constitutional obligations by forcing
prisoners to live in the kind of squalor that has existed at the Canyon
County Jail for years."

The ACLU filed its federal lawsuit
in January, but, due to a technicality, needed to refile it earlier
this month. The lawsuit charges that the jail is overcrowded and shower
facilities are teeming with toxic mold and rust. The lawsuit also
charges that the detention center suffers from inadequate ventilation
and temperature control, inadequate sanitation, and inadequate
plumbing.

"This case displays the need for us
to move away from our state's over-reliance on incarceration," said
Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho. "Implementing
policies that emphasize alternatives to incarceration - especially for
first-time and non-violent offenders - would be both more humane and
fiscally prudent."

A copy of the today's motion for preliminary injunction is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/gen/39187lgl20090327.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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