ACLU of Wisconsin Seeks Further Court Action to Remedy "Appalling" Jail Conditions

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
January 31, 2006 12:00 am

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Nearly 17,000 Violations of Court-Ordered Remedies Documented

MILWAUKEE, WI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee today asked a court to levy fines against Milwaukee County for failing to correct what experts described as “unacceptable, if not appalling” conditions at the Milwaukee County Jail.

“We are asking for appropriate action from the public officials who have the authority to vindicate the rights of thousands of individuals who were victimized by the county’s contempt of court,” said Laurence Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

On January 4, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Clare Fiorenza found that Milwaukee County was in contempt of court for failing to live up to the terms of an agreement between the county, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. The agreement prohibited the jail from holding inmates longer than 30 hours in the booking/open waiting area of the jail.

Judge Fiorenza found that the county violated the agreement at least 16,662 times between November 2001 and April 2004, that these violations were intentional, and that they constituted contempt of court. The court also found that conditions in the booking area – as described in affidavits which were not directly contradicted by the county – were “unacceptable, if not appalling,” and included “overly crowded conditions, inmates who were forced to sit or sleep on the floor next to urinals, inmates who had to sit up for hours and hours, lack of hygiene, unsanitary conditions, inmates who were not given pillows or blankets to sleep on, cells that were infested with bugs, cold temperatures, bodily fluids on the floor and bad odors.”

In addition to the fines, the class-action lawsuit asked the court to compel a population limit of 960 persons in the jail, extend the term of the agreement to January 2008, and impose a fine of $10 per person per hour for any future violations of the 30-hour limit on holding inmates in the booking area.

“We hope the necessary steps will be taken to insure that overcrowding will not endanger the health and safety of Milwaukee County Jail inmates and correctional officers in the future,” said Peter M. Koneazny, Litigation Director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. “We have asked that any fines levied against the county for past violations be directed to preventing overcrowding and improving conditions, facilities and programs at the jail.”

Under Wisconsin law, only the Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager, or a special prosecutor appointed by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Clare Fiorenza can file a complaint seeking punitive sanctions for contempt of court. The ACLU of Wisconsin and the Legal Aid Society have requested that they do so. Should the request be granted, fines of up to $5,000 for each of over 16,000 separate instances of contempt would be levied against the Milwaukee County Jail.

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