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Settlement in Federal Suit Over Treatment of Disabled Detainees in Northern California Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

A class-action lawsuit brought by disabled prisoners held at the Shasta County Jail in California has settled, subject to judicial approval.

The case was originally filed by Everett Joseph Jewett, a disabled detainee. In his April 2, 2014 complaint, Jewett alleged the jail was housing prisoners with disabilities in medical units where they were routinely denied services available to non-disabled prisoners. According to the lawsuit, disabled detainees were denied access to educational and religious services, and only allowed out of their cells one hour a day.

Jewett also claimed the jail failed to provide accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, prisoners with disabilities were held in cells without handrails so they could safely use the toilet, and the showers lacked safety devices. Some detainees were reportedly held in locked-down, noncompliant cells for over a year.

The Seattle Times reported the August 2017 settlement will require the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office to improve conditions for disabled and mobility-challenged prisoners. Those improvements include the removal of physical barriers for detainees who have difficulty walking; the jail will also hire an outside expert to ensure compliance with accessibility laws.

The settlement covered the class-wide injunctive relief portions of the case. Still unresolved are Jewett’s damages claim and the award of attorneys’ fees.

The district court granted class certification and preliminary approval of the settlement in March 2018; a fairness hearing is scheduled for June 28, 2018. The attorneys representing the class members are seeking $1.78 million in fees plus $49,358.69 in costs. Jewett had filed the initial complaint pro se, naming both the Sheriff’s Office and its private health care contractor, California Forensic Medical Group, as defendants. See: Jewett v. Shasta County Sheriff’s Department, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00882-MCE-AC.

The Times noted that counties across California are facing similar issues due to the state’s 2011 realignment law, which shifted the incarceration of some prisoners from state prisons to county jails that are ill-equipped to house detainees with disabilities. 

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Related legal case

Jewett v. Shasta County Sheriff’s Department