Civil Liberties Union, Isabella County jail settle in human rights lawsuit

 The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced Oct. 3 the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates at the Isabella County Correctional Facility. As a result of the ACLU action, the county is now allowing prisoners desperately-needed exercise outside of their cells and it is providing women with equal access to work within the prison. 

“This settlement is a textbook example of how jail officials and civil rights advocates can work together to protect the basic human rights of prisoners,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We congratulate Isabella County for abolishing its former policy of locking down all inmates 24/7 without any opportunity to exercise outside the cell. The new exercise policy not only brings the jail into compliance with constitutional standards, but it enhances security by reducing violence and improving the mental health of inmates.”

The facility, located in Mount Pleasant, Mich., houses about 200 pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates from not only Isabella County, but also cities such as Livonia, Midland and Westland. Prior to the settlement agreement, inmates were not permitted any out-of-cell exercise for the duration of their detention, which can exceed one year. Additionally, women were denied the opportunities male prisoners had to serve as “trustees,” or trusted inmates who are permitted time out of their cells to perform prison jobs.

Under the settlement, jail officials must usually give inmates the opportunity to use a recreation room with exercise equipment for a minimum of an hour, five days a week. They must also make “best efforts” to allow
out-of-cell recreation seven days a week. 

The county further agreed to adopt a policy to ensure that women inmates could be trustees and that the percentage of trustees who were female reflected their presence in overall jail population. Finally, the federal court will have the ability to enforce the settlement for five years if, for some reason, jail officials violate its terms.

“We hope this settlement will serve as a model for other jails,” said Daniel Manville, director of the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic.“ Courts have repeatedly ruled that exercise is extremely important to the psychological and physical well-being of prisoners. Denying prisoners an opportunity to exercise constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

In addition to Steinberg and Manville, the inmates were represented by Daniel Korobkin and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan and students of the MSU College of Law Civil Rights Clinic.