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On December 1, 1994, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the Montana Department of Corrections about overcrowding, safety and health problems in the Montana DOC. This lawsuit comes after an earlier suit against the Montana DOC filed by the ACLU was settled by the parties. Timothy Payne of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division stated that the federal government filed suit because it felt there were severe limitations on how the ACLU settlement could be enforced and it was not comprehensive.

The ACLU settlement requires the state to take numerous steps to improve medical, dental and mental health care for prisoners, guarantees prisoners certain amounts of time outside their cells and provide adequate security and training for staff. [See March, 1995 PLN] The state was given one year to comply with the agreement which was signed November 29, 1994. The ACLU suit arose from a 1992 riot that left five prisoners dead and the maximum security building of the prison severely damaged.

The federal suit, which names the state's governor, DOC Director and warden Mike Mahoney claims that Montana prisoners are being denied their federal constitutional rights. It alleges that the Montana State Prison is overcrowded, unsafe and fails to provide adequate medical, dental mental health and emergency care to prisoners. The complaint cites insufficient staff, training, policies and equipment. It also states that there are insufficient protective custody measures.

The Montana ACLU director, Scott Crichton, claimed to be surprised at the federal suit because the DOJ could have intervened in the ACLU lawsuit but chose not to. He welcomed the DOJ suit if it would hasten change on issues left unresolved by the ACLU suit.

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