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Canyon County Jail in Idaho Settles Conditions Suit With Consent Decree and $190,000 in Attorney’s Fees

On November 12, 2009, Canyon County, Idaho agreed to settle a federal class-action suit against the Canyon County Jail (CCJ) that raised a myriad of claims related to unconstitutional conditions.

Filed in March 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners at the jail, the lawsuit alleged overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, shoddy sanitation, poor plumbing, inadequate temperature control, lack of bedding, deprival of recreation, inadequate staffing, insufficient fire protection, poor medical care, arbitrary enforcement of rules, and failure to provide special meals for prisoners with food allergies.

The case was settled with a consent decree entered by the district court. The terms of the decree eliminate overcrowd-ing problems by requiring the CCJ to adhere to its functional capacity except in rare circumstances. When capacity is ex-ceeded, the jail’s population must be reduced to functional capacity within 48 hours.

To resolve problems related to humidity, foul odors and mold, the consent decree requires that all ducts, vents and ceiling grates be inspected by HVAC professionals and that all ducts be professionally cleaned.

Sanitation also will be improved under the decree. Cleaning activities must be logged and supplies maintained, and routine maintenance and cleaning of drains and showers is required. Additionally, washing machines must no longer be overloaded and torn mattresses, if not repairable, have to be discarded. Razors will be collected and disposed of daily to prevent redistribution.

Temperatures at the jail must now be maintained between 65 and 80 degrees. Further, each prisoner shall receive two blankets upon intake, and must be afforded outdoor recreation.
Faucets, sinks, toilets and showers have to be checked weekly per the consent decree.
Functioning hot and cold wa-ter must be provided to prisoners, and water temperatures for the showers must be maintained at 100 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plumbing at the jail remained broken for weeks or months at a time prior to the lawsuit, and prisoners were routinely scalded while showering.

Finally, the decree requires the CCJ to maintain appropriate staffing levels, to post prisoner rules and grievance pro-cedures, to provide special meals to prisoners with verified food allergies, to reduce the co-pay for medical care visits from $10.00 to $5.00, and to eliminate sex discrimination in work release programs for female prisoners.

The consent decree in this case represents one of the most sweeping jail remediation plans since the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996. Following the court’s entry of the decree, the ACLU and the county settled the ACLU’s request for attorney’s fees for $190,000.

The consent decree was later amended to specify that “security checks in the Canyon County Jail shall be performed in accordance with the applicable policies and procedures,” including training jail staff as to the “need to comply with the policies and procedures to perform security checks.” The revised decree was entered on May 3, 2010. See: Davis v. Can-yon County, U.S.D.C. (D. Idaho), Case No. 1:09-cv-00107-BLW.

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Related legal case

Davis v. Canyon County