Federal Court Hears Arguments in ACLU of Arkansas Lawsuit Over Unsafe Prison Conditions

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
December 1, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK — Trial began today in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas on behalf of prisoners who charge that their health is at serious risk because of fire and safety violations at a Faulkner County prison, including failure to perform tuberculosis tests on prisoners as required by the state health department.

“The Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee has found the jail in Conway to be seriously overcrowded every year but one since 1997,” said Grif Stockley, an ACLU of Arkansas staff attorney who is representing the prisoners. “Although a new jail is being constructed, prisoners are at risk right now, and we are asking the court to take action immediately.”

According to the ACLU’s legal challenge, the Faulkner County Detention Center is in violation of Arkansas Fire and Life Safety Codes regarding occupancy. When the ACLU filed its lawsuit on July 19, the prison had more than 200 inmates, including several women and juveniles, even though it has a stated maximum capacity of 140 individuals. The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the detention center to cap the number of persons who can be confined at 121 and to require the county to provide adequate security.

“The defendants were told in 1999 by Conway fire officials in no uncertain terms that the prison violated the occupancy code and they had no option but to bring it into compliance. Unfortunately, they have chosen not to follow this warning,” Stockley said.

The ACLU also charged that the detention center failed to perform skin tests for tuberculosis on prisoners, even though the Arkansas Department of Health requires correctional facilities holding 50 or more prisoners to perform such tests on all prisoners expected to remain for 14 days or more.

“The spread of tuberculosis is a major problem in jails and prisons,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “With the overcrowding problem Faulkner County has, it is just begging for trouble. Not only are inmates at risk, but prisoners come into contact with their families, judges, guards — and the general public after their release–and can spread this sometimes fatal disease.”

The ACLU urged the court to order Faulkner County to adopt practices similar to other counties, such as Pulaski County, which give tuberculosis skin tests to every inmate who is admitted to prison facilities.

The ACLU 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.

In addition to the ACLU’s Stockley, the prisoners are represented by cooperating attorney Alvin Schay.

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