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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 22nd, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 21

Settlement reached in county jail conditions lawsuit

By Malea Martin

Parties in the Murray v. County of Santa Barbara jail conditions case reached a “groundbreaking settlement” on July 17, a press release from Disability Rights California, Prison Law Office, and King & Spalding LLP announced. 

These legal firms represented hundreds of incarcerated people at the Santa Barbara County Jail in a class action lawsuit that has been in negotiation for months and “seeks to address the dangerous and unconstitutional conditions at the jail,” the release states. On June 25, Aaron Fischer from Disability Rights California and his team filed a status report that was reviewed and approved by the county Board of Supervisors in closed session on July 14. 

“The supervisors are the county, so they have to review it and approve it,” Fischer explained.

With board approval, Fischer and his team filed a notice with the court saying the parties had officially agreed to a settlement. The process now goes to the court for final approval, because the class members who the case represents must also get a chance to review the settlement and provide comments or objections.

Fischer shared some of the key components of the 84-page settlement document with the Sun

The jail agreed to improve in the provision of medical and mental health care, and improve in suicide prevention practices. This means more oversight of the jail’s private health care provider, as well as structured mental health programming for people who need it, which Fischer said has been virtually non-existent. The settlement also outlines the creation of a sanitation plan.

The jail additionally must better identify those with disabilities who need accommodations and ensure that facilities meet physical accessibility requirements. Fischer said that, according to an expert’s assessment conducted as part of the lawsuit, there are no housing units in the system that meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards.

The county also agreed to reform solitary confinement practices, such as stopping the use of “extreme isolation cells” as well as “all solitary confinement cells that lack any dayroom access.” 

Finally, Fischer emphasized a specific but integral point in the settlement: no more people sleeping on the floor. He explained that this directly ties into what happened to Clay Murray, the lead plaintiff in the case. 

“Mr. Murray had a number of health care needs and disabilities that went without treatment for a significant period of time, and it illustrated these systemic problems,” Fischer said. “He was provided a bed that was not accessible to someone who is in a wheelchair, and as a result he couldn’t get in and out and had to sleep on the floor. That happened a few times.” 

In a July 17 press release from the county announcing the settlement, Sheriff Bill Brown gave a written statement about the outcome. 

“As these measures are implemented, we will be able to provide better correctional services to our incarcerated community members,” he wrote. “Although our custody professionals have performed admirably for years, they have been hampered in their efforts by limited resources and an obsolete and inefficient jail facility that is more than 50 years old. … As we enter into this agreement we know there will be many difficulties in meeting the myriad of requirements it contains, but I have confidence that the dedicated men and women in our Custody Operations Branch will rise up and see to it that we meet those challenges.” 

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