ACLU Seeks Immediate Improvement To Grossly Inadequate Conditions At Canyon County Jail

Affiliate: ACLU of Idaho
March 27, 2009 12:00 am

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BOISE, ID – 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:

Additional information about the ACLU is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU of Idaho is available online at:

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