County to institute new retaliation policies as outcome of federal lawsuit
Boise, ID—The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho in partnership with the national ACLU Racial Justice Program today reached an agreement with Canyon County officials to settle a federal class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU in November of 2011. The lawsuit claimed that staff of the Canyon County Jail retaliated against prisoners for exercising their First Amendment right to file grievances with county officials and with the courts.Documents filed in November in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho alleged that prisoners were placed in solitary confinement or transferred to other jails if they complained about poor conditions in the Canyon County Jail. Lorraine Scott, one of the plaintiffs, claims in the lawsuit that she was placed in solitary after submitting a grievance and that when she was released from isolation, a guard told her that if she filed another complaint she would be returned to solitary confinement.
“I commend Canyon County Jail administrators and Sheriff Smith for responding promptly to our concerns and dealing appropriately to allegations of retaliation,” said ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar. “It is crucial that prisoners everywhere be able to bring complaints about jail conditions without fear of retaliation."
The settlement agreement reached today will result in Canyon County implementing a written policy assuring "zero tolerance" for retaliatory action taken by jail officers against prisoners. Within 90 days of the Court approving the settlement, Canyon County will conduct a training session with all officers having contact with prisoners at the jail, including administration, regarding the jail’s zero tolerance retaliation policy. Additionally, retaliation training with jail staff will be conducted annually by an attorney in the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (CCPA).
According to the agreement, prisoners will not be transferred to another jail for submitting grievances, and whenever prisoners are transferred to a different housing unit within the jail after submitting a grievance, they will be told the reasons for the move. Prisoners who believe they are being retaliated against may file a grievance that will be carefully investigated, and in appropriate situations, the Jail can request both prisoners and staff to undergo polygraph testing. Jail policies and the Inmate Handbook will be revised in order to clarify these new policies and procedures.
“The handbooks will provide a constant reminder to both staff and prisoners that the United States Constitution is in force in the jail,” said Richard Eppink, ACLU of Idaho Legal Director. “We are pleased that jail administrators have enacted a policy that fully protects their interests while also recognizing that prisoners have a constitutional right to notify them and the courts about substandard conditions."
The relief granted in this agreement will terminate on the two-year anniversary of the date that the parties execute this agreement, unless Canyon County is not in compliance with the agreement.