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Washington Jail Settles Conditions Lawsuit

On October 6, 2003 officials in Jefferson County, Washington settled a class action lawsuit filed by a Jefferson County Jail prisoner. The suit alleged inhumane living conditions and resulted in sweeping changes in jail policy.

On February 25, 2002 Shawn Orndorff, a prisoner at the jail, filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma. The complaint accused Jefferson County Sheriff Peter G. Piccini, Corrections Supervisor Carla Schuck, and Jail Sergeant Steven Richmond of violating prisoners' rights by subjecting them to "inadequate health care, frigidly cold cells, broken pipes, flooding and inadequate clothing and bedding" (reported at p. 11, PLN, February 2003).

David C. Fathi and Aaron H. Caplan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) litigated the case on Orndorff's behalf. The terms of the resulting settlement follow.

Ø Jail officials will implement policies that will help jail health care providers to get accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Medical request forms will also be made available in each cell block day room.

Ø Jail officials will maintain a jail temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The County Health Department will make periodic surprise visits to the jail to ensure that the temperature is as it should be. Also, prisoners in cells with outside walls will receive extra blankets upon request.

Ø Jail officials will ensure that sufficient toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and other hygiene supplies are always available to prisoners in the jail.

Ø Prisoners who are not in segregation will be allowed at least one daily hour of recreation outside their cells, with at least four of those hours to be outdoors.

Ø Prisoners will not be kept in cells without functioning toilets, and repairs to hot water faucets and toilets will be prompt.

Ø Crisis cells (solitary confinement for those in emotional crisis) will not be used for discipline. Prisoners also will not be put in crisis cells in the nude. Jail staff will keep a written record of when and why a prisoner is placed in a crisis cell, as well as guards' findings as to his or her condition after in-person observation every 15 minutes. These records will be regularly reviewed by jail supervisors.

Ø All current and future jail guards will receive professionalism training, and all incidents where force is used on prisoners will be documented and regularly reviewed by supervisory staff.

Ø A grievance system will be established, and forms will be provided. All grievances will be answered in writing within 7 days of their receipt by jail staff.

Ø The jail's ban on outside reading material will be ended, and prisoners' mail will not be delayed or withheld for disciplinary reasons.

The defendants also paid $82,500 in attorney fees and costs to the ACLU. See: Orndorff v. Jefferson County et al, USDC WD WA, Case No. 02-5096 (RJB)RBL.

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Related legal case

Orndorff v. Jefferson County