Friday, August 14, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 24

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 1st, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 18

Class action lawsuit against county jail close to a settlement

By Malea Martin

More than two years after being granted class action certification, Murray v. County of Santa Barbara is one step closer to reaching a settlement. 

The parties have been in negotiations to try and resolve the case, which seeks court-ordered reforms within the Santa Barbara County Jail. Disability Rights California, the litigation counsel representing the class action members, asserts that the jail violates the Eighth and 14th Amendment rights of inmates and is not compliant with disability laws. 

“The Main Jail right now does not have a single housing unit, shower, or living space that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act rules on mobility standards. They do not have adequate outdoor space to get everybody outside a few days a week,” said Aaron Fischer, one of the attorneys representing the class. “Right now, [mental health] clinicians just go to the cell front and talk to them. That’s not a meaningful mental health contact.”

On June 25, Fischer and his team filed a status report that will be reviewed by the county Board of Supervisors in closed session on July 7. 

Fischer said that this status report is particularly important, as it informs the court that the parties have reached a full settlement in principle. If the Board of Supervisors approves it, then the parties can seek court approval. 

Because it’s a class action lawsuit, class members then get a chance to review the proposed settlement and provide comments or objections. After that process the court can approve a final settlement, which Fischer said typically takes a few months. 

The proposed settlement seeks to ensure that inmates “with disabilities and people with health care needs are able to get the care and treatment they’re entitled to and that they need.” For the jail to achieve those ends it will require additional resources, Fischer said. 

With some community members calling to take resources and funding away from the county jail system, Fischer clarified what he believes the proposed settlement would really mean for the future of the local jail system.

“Nothing in the settlement prevents the county from meaningfully reducing its jail system,” Fischer said. “It will take resources to make sure that people with disabilities and people with health care needs are able to get the care and treatment they’re entitled to and that they need, but there’s nothing that says the jail needs to be a certain size. We fully support a smaller jail system in the county that is able to meet the needs of our class members who continue to be in that system.” 

While the class action lawsuit represents all current and future inmates of the jail, the county Public Defender’s Office also has a stake in jail conditions since they represent some inmates as well—especially during a global pandemic.

“The Public Defender’s Office represents a large number of people who are still in custody right now, so our priority has been to try to see that they’re either released or held in conditions that preserve their rights and safety,” Deputy Public Defender Mark Saatjian told the Sun.

One way to reduce the jail population is through zero-bail policy measures, something that counties across the state have implemented in reaction to COVID-19. A statewide zero-bail policy ended on June 20, but the Santa Barbara Superior Court elected to extend it until further notice. 

“I think it’s very important that it be extended,” Saatjian said. “It’s been helpful to show the community that too many people were being held in custody pre-trial.”

As of June 9, the jail population had 591 inmates in custody, down from an average of 900 before the pandemic, according to Lt. Erik Raney from the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office is still discussing whether the population reduction will be possible to maintain long-term, he said.

“While all of these efforts have been successful in reducing the current jail population, what we do not know, is how will this ultimately affect public safety,” Raney said in an email to the Sun

Weekly Poll
Should the Foxen oil pipeline project receive more environmental review?

No. The existing report is enough.
Yes—the Foxen project should be reviewed on its own.
That project should have been killed years ago.
I don't care; COVID-19 issues are more important to me.

| Poll Results

My 805 Tix - Tickets to upcoming events