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$160,000 Settles New Jersey Jail Class Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

After eleven years of litigation and five failed consent decrees, Camden County, New Jersey corrections officials have finally agreed to pay $160,000 to settle a federal civil rights suit that alleged severe overcrowding, sanitation, poor nutrition and environmental violations of prisoners’ rights. Approved by the court on June 30, 2017, the agreement puts in place a system whereby population levels at the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF) will be maintained at lower levels, more efficient jail-management practices instituted and conditions of confinement substantially improved.

Corri Dittimus-Bey, Melvin Clark, Mark Elliott and Donald Rudd, who were the original plaintiffs when the case was filed in 2005, were certified as class representatives. Their complaint alleged numerous constitutional violations at CCCF.

They said CCCF was constructed in 1988 and designed to house 1,267 prisoners after numerous modifications and additions, but by March 2004 the population exceeded 1,800 prisoners. “The result is an extremely overpopulated facility that is exceptionally understaffed creating an unsafe, unhealthy, and unsanitary environment for the inmates incarcerated at CCCF,” the complaint stated.

The overcrowded conditions did not escape the notice of usually-ineffectual correctional oversight agencies. “In or about March 2004, the National Institute of Corrections issued a report titled “Local System Assessment (LSA) for Camden County NJ Correctional Facility,” (“NIC Report”) which took note of the “extreme” crowding at the CCCF, stating that the “[c]urrent population levels exceed the rated capacity by 140% ....”

Further, a 2007 report found serious health and sanitation problems at the facility. Urban Engineers, an environmental expert retained by the plaintiffs, did an on-site inspection to check for mold, mildew, water quality, air pollution, elevated CO2 levels and rodent infestations. They suggested upgrades to CCCF’s showers, HVAC system, windows and other repairs, and noted that a population reduction would assist in upgrading the facility.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, in addition to improvements at CCCF, attorneys representing the prisoners received $155,000 in legal fees, Dittimus-Bey and Elliot were each paid $1,500, and Rudd and Clark each received $1,000.

“A lot of cases don’t have such happy endings, but this one does,” said presiding U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Simandle, who approved the settlement, terming it “a great achievement” for both prisoners and the county. The court reserved jurisdiction over the agreement for two years to ensure compliance with its terms. See: Dittimus-Bey v. Taylor, U.S.D.C. (D. NJ), Case No. 1:05-cv-00063-JBS-JS. 

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Related legal case

Dittimus-Bey v. Taylor