On October 5, 1976, female prisoners housed at the Santa Clara County Women's Detention Facility filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the County Sheriff. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief concerning a wide range of conditions of confinement.
After several years of litigation, on March 25, 1980, the District Court entered final judgment pursuant to stipulation, granting injunctive relief and addressing problems in the areas of visitation rights, size of exercise areas, rehabilitation programs, medical care, cell block population, access to the law library, food preparation, safety of beds, and telephone access. The Court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the judgment or to modify it upon application from one of the parties.
On June 25, 1982, the plaintiffs moved the Court to reopen and modify its earlier judgment, presenting evidence showing further violations of constitutional rights. The Court granted the motion to reopen the judgment, and the parties began to negotiate. Their negotiations were fruitful, and on March 10, 1983, the parties entered into a consent decree that settled the issues of jail construction, medical services, food service, maintenance of the facility, staffing and lockdowns, clothing supplies and personal hygiene, exercise, law library access, and release of inmates pursuant to various state statutes.
Only the issues of floor-sleeping and overcrowding remained unsolved, and a trial was held to address them. On April 28, 1983, the Court issued an order directing the County to cease housing prisoners on mattresses on the floor in housing areas, finding the practice potentially dangerous in an emergency. The Court (Chief Judge Robert F. Peckham) entered a further order on May 19, 1983, finding the overcrowding in the facility generally to be unconstitutional in light of the fire hazard it presented, the increased danger of physical violence and psychological distress is caused, and the negative impact it had on sanitation. Fischer v. Winter
, 564 F. Supp. 281 (N.D. Cal. 1983). The Court directed the parties to prepare remedial proposals and indicated that a hearing should be scheduled on the remedies proposed.
We have no information on further proceedings, possibly because the construction of a new jail in the interim made further remediation unnecessary.
(This summary is adapted in large part from the District Court's discussion of the case's procedural background in its order of May 19, 1983. See Fischer
, 564 F. Supp. at 284-85.)Christopher Schad - 07/20/2012