County Jail Failing to Test Prisoners for Tuberculosis as Required by Department of Health, ACLU of Arkansas Charges

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
October 8, 2004 12:00 am

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Illegal Overcrowding Only Worsens the Problem; ACLU Seeks Speedy Hearing to Address Health Threat

LITTLE ROCK–The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today announced that is charging officials at the Faulkner County Detention Center with endangering the health of prisoners and the public by not performing skin tests for tuberculosis (TB) on prisoners as required by the state health department. The ACLU said the county is also in violation of Arkansas Fire and Life Safety Codes regarding occupancy.

“In light of these two developments, we have requested a hearing to ask the court to order the jail to conduct TB skin tests as required by the Arkansas Department of Health,” said Grif Stockley, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Arkansas. “This is a serious public health concern. It is common knowledge that, left untreated, TB can kill you. Prisoners come into contact with their families, judges, guards, and others, and can infect them.”

“There may be former prisoners who have been released and are walking around right now with TB who contracted it at the Faulkner County jail,” Stockley added. “We know of at least one former Faulkner County jail prisoner who was found to have latent TB when he was transferred to the Arkansas Department of Correction.”

The health department requires correctional facilities holding 50 or more prisoners to perform TB skin tests on all prisoners expected to remain for 14 days or more.

The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit on July 19 of this year against the Faulkner County jail regarding the severe overcrowding at this facility. The jail was originally designed to hold 121 people, but on July 6, the jail roster showed 210 prisoners. The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the jail to cap the number of persons who can be confined at 121 and to require the county to provide adequate security.

According to the ACLU, the Faulkner County Detention Center has been cited by the Arkansas Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee for overcrowding and security concerns every six months since 1997.

“Although Faulkner County has begun to deal with this problem by authorizing the construction of a new jail, authorities can’t be allowed to pretend that constitutional rights of prisoners can only be applied in when the new jail is finished,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Severe overcrowding is a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. And for the high percentage of prisoners detained in jail who haven’t even been convicted, the violation is even more severe.”

The ACLU’s July 19 lawsuit names as defendants members of the Faulkner County Quorum Court, along with County Judge John Wayne Carter, Sheriff Marty Montgomery and Major Kyle Kelley, Chief Jail Administrator.

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