By Tate McCotter, NIJO Executive Director
What is the value for a jail administration of keeping documentation of sanitation and maintenance efforts in the jail? Consider the following circumstances.
In Nassau County, NY, inmate Peter Solomon claimed a rodent came out of a hole in his mattress and bit him on the penis. Solomon sued the following year, claiming “deliberate indifference to his health and safety in failing to adequately protect him from rodents.” Solomon claims he suffered emotional distress, and his attorney said Thursday that Solomon has “complete sexual dysfunction.” It would be easy to hear of such a circumstance and think anything but a joke. However, U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt denied the jail’s motion for dismissal, ruling that Solomon had raised enough issues aboutt the county’s pest control procedures at the jail for the lawsuit to proceed.1 Solomon’s attorneys noted there were 11 formal inmate grievances about rodents in the 23 months leading up to his injury. They also retrieved grievances complaining about rodents from 50 other inmates.
In Jackson County, MO, two federal lawsuits were filed against the 33-year old Jackson County Detention Center in the last year.2 Inmate Joshua Riechmann said that when inmates in adjoining cells flushed their toilets, urine and human excrement would sometimes back up into Riechmann’s toilet bowl and slop onto the floor. Another inmate, Nicholas Ayers alleged that his toilet had no water supply and that he would have to lug water to his second-floor cell from a flight below to get it to flush. When he suffered a slip and fall carrying a plastic trash can full of water, he filed a lawsuit. In addition to sewage problems, standing water and black mold were also cited in the claims for unsanitary conditions. Jackson County Executive Frank White issued a statement saying, “Within the facility there are approximately 1,000 toilets and hundreds of showers and sinks. Ongoing leaks and clogs happen throughout the facility routinely. The Detention Complex has two plumbers on staff and has a contract with an outside vendor to respond to emergency plumbing needs after hours and on weekends.” The jail reportedly spent over $57,000 on improvements that same year – one of which was a waste stack replacement project. However, recent inspection reports also noted those same issues from the Health Department. The media’s relentless negative exposure of the jail administration, in light of these and other events, haven’t been easy for the jail administration to handle.
It is not uncommon in jail conditions litigation for inmates to make general allegations of unsanitary conditions, filth, poor maintenance, and general neglect of the facility. Many jails are actively conducting routine sanitation and maintenance, yet when it comes to reacting to litigation and claims like the few mentioned above, the documentation can be scarce and difficult to obtain when needed the most. Documentation is critical not just to the defense in litigation, but also in defending the needs for counties to provide the necessary funding (which includes the physical needs) of the jail.3
Plaintiffs must make more than unsupported claims to state a cause of action; however, counties defending such action should have the capability and preparation to offer (among other defenses to inmates’ claims) documentation of sanitation plan requirements and ongoing efforts to implement the jail’s sanitation and maintenance plan. The following are suggestions for administrators to consider as a proactive defense to protect the jail.
- Adopt and implement written policies and procedures governing documentation of facility sanitation and maintenance.
- Obtain documentation by maintaining files, logs and other reports reflecting ongoing sanitation efforts in the facility. These should include regular internal inspections and a list of sanitation and maintenance problems noted.
- Whenever any deficiencies are found through internal or external inspections or brought to the attention of the administration through inmate filed grievances, document action taken to resolve any of the above deficiencies. Such documentation can prove highly effective against deliberate indifference claims.3 Likewise, documentation can prove good-faith efforts made by a sheriff asking county commissioners responsible for the budget for increased funding to address those sanitation/physical plant deficiencies. Even if the commissioners deny such requests, the documentation can be instrumental in proving the administration was not deliberately indifferent. Document the results of implementing the sanitation and maintenance plan by providing:
- Internal reports that demonstrate timely response to maintenance and sanitation issues;
- Internal inspections which show decreasing or very low incidence of problems; and
- The results of inspections by outside entities. Defending conditions of confinement litigation involving maintenance and sanitation issues requires documentation of ongoing efforts to implement the jail’s sanitation and maintenance plan and copies of outside inspection reports.
- Eltman, Frank. 13 January 2011. “Lawsuit over Rate Bite on Penis Gets Go Ahead.” www.nbcnews.com
- Hendricks, Mike. April 27, 2017. “Jacoson County Jail Inmates Say they were Forced to Live in Filth, File Lawsuits.” www.kansascity.com
- Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994); Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327 (1986); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344 (1986); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Warren v. State of Missouri, 995 F.2d 130 (CA8 1993); Bibbs v. Armontrout, 943 F.2d 26 (CA8 1991), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 1212 (1992) (negligence does not state a cause of action; standard is deliberate indifference)
- See Legal-Based Jail Guidelines I02.01.01 Sanitation Policies
- See Legal-Based Jail Guidelines I03.02.01 Internal Audits and Inspections