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Settlement and $325,000 Attorney Fee Award in Suit over Jail Conditions at Passaic County Jail

On February 23, 2012, the American Civil liberties Union (ACLU) and Seton Ha].] University School of Law's Center for Social Justice (CSJ) announced the preliminary settlement of a federal class-action civil-rights lawsuit over conditions of confinement at the Passaic County Jail in New Jersey. Under the terms of the settlement, overcrowding, Fire hazards, environmental hazards and deficiencies in medical and mental health care will be corrected. The settlement also awarded the prisoners .325,000 in attorney fees.

"This settlement will be a huge victory for the inmates of Passaic County Jail, which at one time was notorious for its inhumane and degrading conditions," according to CSJ attorney Particia Perlmutter.

"Our clients have had to endure serious hazards and deficiencies at an aging; facility, but we have already started to see meaningful progress--including a reduction of 40Z of the jail population. Reducing that kind of stress on the building, and staff now clears the way for environmental safety and management improvements," said Princeton attorney Regan H. Crotty, who has represented the prisoners in the lawsuit since its inception.

"Conditions at Passaic County Jail before the lawsuit were so deplorable as to be called 'shameful' by a federal judge and were considered so punitive that the U.S. Marshalls removed all federal prisoners from the jail," said Jenny-Broke Condon, an associate professor at CSJ.

The settlement prohibits housing prisoners from other jurisdictions at the jail and calls for an independent monitor and a maximum prisoner population of 1022 with restrictions on triple bunking and rearrangement of bunks to allow sufficient space. The agreement also requires upgrades to the jails heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and fire prevention facilities. It further requires proper maintenance of plumbing and electrical systems and an overhaul of jail management procedures. Additionally, the settlement has specific requirements in sanitation and Food-preparation procedures to avoid food borne illnesses. It also requires that prisoners be provided cleaning chemicals for sanitizing housing areas, showers and toilets and that the prisoners handling the chemicals be provided with training about and protection from the chemicals. Further, the agreement requires laundering and exchange of clothing, towels and linen and taking steps to prevent the transmission of staph via soiled laundry. Monthly pest control inspections are also called for in the agreement.

The settlement mandates improvement in medical services, including improved medical records keeping and timely and adequate access to chronic and specialized treatment, while requiring the jail to obtain medical accreditation. It also requires more aggressive screening and treatment of mentally ill prisoners and provisions for placing endangered mentally ill prisoners on special watch while mandating programs to prepare mentally ill prisoners for reentry into society.

The agreement calls for an overhaul of the jail's management system and enhanced staff training on use of force. To monitor the safety of prisoners and staff, the settlements requires the installation of closed-circuit television surveillance in many areas of the jail. The jail is also required to use forms and software to track the use of force by staff and identify any staff members engaging, in excessive numbers of use-of-force incidents.

The settlement is a consent decree in a class-action lawsuit brought by prisoners pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, it is subject to the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3626. Therefore, the agreement has termination provisions if when the defendants achieve substantial compliance in five compliance categories for each of five consecutive semiannual inspections by the monitor or after five years, whichever comes first.

In addition to Perlmutter, Crotty and Condon, the prisoners were represented by Newark attorney J. Barry Cocoziello, Princeton attorneys Ezra D. Rosenberg and Jennie B. Krasner and ACLU attorneys Jeanne LoCicero and Edward L. Barocas of Newark. See: Colon v. Passaic County, U.S.D.C.-D.N.J., Case No. 2:08-cv-04439-DMC-MF.

Additional source: ACLU Press Release

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Related legal case

Colon v. Passaic County