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Inmates sue over conditions at Yuba County jail

Nearly 40 years after a Sacramento federal judge ordered an overhaul of conditions at the Yuba County jail in Marysville, lawyers for its inmates filed court papers Monday alleging that the jail remains “a dangerous place, rife with constitutional violations.”

The inmates are seeking the Sacramento court’s intervention “to stop the most harmful violations of their rights,” according to the motion to enforce the 1979 agreement.

The violations include “the county’s deliberate indifference to suicide hazards; woefully inadequate medical and mental health care; segregation of the mentally ill, sometimes in unsanitary ‘rubber rooms’ covered in blood and feces; and the lack of meaningful access to exercise and recreation,” the motion alleges.

“In the last 30 months alone, there have been at least 41 suicide attempts at the jail,” according to the motion. “In that same time period, prisoners with mental illness have been regularly placed in isolation cells with shuttered windows for days at a time and deprived of access to outdoor exercise for weeks on end.”

“We have had two years of talks. The time has come to act,” said Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld, a partner in a San Francisco law firm that represents a class made up of present and future inmates at the jail. “These situations are very disturbing,” she said in a telephone interview.

“We need prompt and effective relief. You can’t just say ‘We don’t want to spend the money’ or ‘We can’t afford it.’ These are constitutional violations,” Grunfeld said.

Yuba County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Leslie Carbah declined to comment and referred inquiries to the county counsel’s office. Courtney Abril, chief deputy county counsel in Yuba County, said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

“Most of the prisoners unfortunate enough to be confined there are pre-trial and immigration detainees who are not even serving a criminal sentence,” the motion points out.

The Yuba County grand jury has labeled the oldest section of the jail a “dungeon,” the motion notes.

Inmates’ attorneys say they have made repeated attempts to get county officials to abide by the agreement .

They say they “wrote letters, provided expert recommendations, and conducted meetings.” They say they “toured the jail with highly regarded correctional and medical experts and interviewed hundreds of prisoners ... presented a proposed remedial order to the county.” None of the these efforts yielded positive results, the attorneys say.

Unless the court once again steps in, their clients “will continue to be exposed to unconstitutional and life-threatening conditions on a daily basis,” the attorneys say in the motion.

They are urging U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to order “the prompt development and funding of an intake screening plan, health care implementation plan, suicide prevention plan, inpatient care plan, jail staffing plan, and inmate exercise and recreation plan.”

In 2014 Burrell rejected the county’s motion to terminate the 1979 consent decree, which sets out the agreed-upon terms under which the jail is supposed to be operating. The county appealed the ruling, but lost its motion at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The county failed to show that “there are no ongoing constitutional violations,” nor that the consent decree’s mandates go beyond what is necessary to correct ongoing violations, a three-judge panel of the circuit decided in April.

Instead, the panel found, the county “simply urged that they were entitled to termination as a matter of law, and presented almost no evidence about ongoing violations or that the decree was overly broad.”

Burrell appointed Carter “Cappy” White, director and supervising attorney of the UC Davis School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, along with his students, to oppose Yuba County’s effort to rid itself of the consent decree.

In September 2014, while the county’s appeal was pending, White brought in the San Francisco law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld as co-counsel for the inmates. The firm has litigated for 30 years to achieve constitutional conditions for California’s prison inmates.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189

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