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Case Name Ahrens v. Thomas JC-MO-0006
Docket / Court 74-34 ( W.D. Mo. )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Case Summary
In 1974, pre-trial detainees in the Platte County Jail filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, against the county sheriff and judges, challenging conditions of confinement in the Jail. The building was over 1 ... read more >
In 1974, pre-trial detainees in the Platte County Jail filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, against the county sheriff and judges, challenging conditions of confinement in the Jail. The building was over 100 years old; it had exposed, un-insulated wiring; there was only one exposed shower available; clean bedding and towels were almost never provided; neither clothing nor hygiene products were provided to any inmate; neither medical screening nor onsite medical attention was available; guards received no training; and there was an intense roach infestation. Additionally, despite the fact that the majority of men in the jail were pre-trial detainees, still innocent until proven guilty, there was no private area where detainees could meet with attorneys; telephone and visitation rights were heavily restricted; all mail was routinely opened and read by jail staff, unless privileged (from attorneys, clergy, or spouses); there were little to no recreation or exercise opportunities; and daily nutrition fell far below government recommended standards. Legal Aid, and the Defenders Society of Kansas City represented the detainees; the National Juvenile Law Center was Amicus Curiae.

On August 18, 1975, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri (Chief Judge John W. Oliver) certified the cause as a class action. The Legal Aid and Defenders Society of Greater Kansas City represented the plaintiff class, and a trial was held in April 1976. On June 3, 1977, after twice delaying final determination of the case to await the outcome of possible reform legislation, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri (Chief Judge John Watkins Oliver), held that jail conditions did not meet minimum constitutional standards under the 14th and 8th Amendments, and ordered the jail closed except to house pre-trial detainees for no more than seven days if vital physical improvements were made to the facilities. Ahrens v. Thomas, 434 F. Supp. 873 (W.D. Mo. 1977). In addition, Judge Oliver prescribed minimal constitutional standards for a new Platte County Jail which included physical, health and safety conditions of the jail, adequate medical care, food services, recreation for inmates, classification of inmates, access to legal services and opportunity to prepare for trial, visiting and communication, disciplinary and grievance procedures for inmates and proper training, selection and staffing of correctional officers. He also retained jurisdiction to oversee construction of a new jail. On June 8, 1977, The Court (Judge Oliver) entered a stay of execution of judgment pursuant to clarification of measures necessary for compliance.

On June 13, 1977, defendants filed notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and application for a stay pending appeal. On June 16, 1977, with consideration for the notice of appeal, the stay was extended so that a conference could be held for both sides to discuss adequate compliance measures. Finally, on June 24, 1977, after the conference, the stay was extended indefinitely pending further good faith meetings with architects and builders to make sure the proposed new jail would meet the court ordered specifications.

On February 17, 1978, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Judge Roy Laverne Stephenson) held that although minimal constitutional standards for present county jail ordered by the district court were not an abuse of discretion, the District Court impermisibly intruded into affairs of state prison administration by prescribing specific standards for future construction and operation of Jail and in retaining jurisdiction for purpose of insuring conformance. Ahrens v. Thomas, 570 F.2d 286, (8th Cir. 1978) Rehearing was denied on March 15, 1978.

According to the Sheriff's Office's website the County Jail went out of use in April 1979, when the Jail was moved to the County Courthouse. In August 1998, the Tom Thomas Law Enforcement Center was completed, which houses both males and females 17 years of age or older who are arrested for a violation of law or sentenced to a jail term by the Platte County Circuit Courts.

Kristen Sagar - 06/01/2007


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Administrative segregation
Classification / placement
Counseling
Education
Mail
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Totality of conditions
Visiting
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Platte County Jail
Plaintiff Description pretrial detainees in the Platte County Jail
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration 1977 - 1979
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies After Decision: Implementation of Judicial Decrees in Correctional Settings
Written: Oct. 01, 1977
By: M. Kay Harris & Dudley P. Spiller (Temple University)
Citation: (1977)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Memorandum Opinion, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Orders Granting Plaintiffs Relief 06/24/1977 (434 F.Supp. 873) (W.D. Mo.)
JC-MO-0006-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Reported Opinion 03/15/1978 (570 F.2d 286)
JC-MO-0006-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Oliver, John Watkins (W.D. Mo.)
JC-MO-0006-0001
Stephenson, Roy Laverne (Eighth Circuit, S.D. Iowa)
JC-MO-0006-0002
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Dittmeier, William J. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001 | JC-MO-0006-0002
Roseman, Ronald L. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001 | JC-MO-0006-0002
Steinberg, Andrew J. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001 | JC-MO-0006-0002
Defendant's Lawyers Hull, Owens Lee Jr. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001 | JC-MO-0006-0002
Tharp, Donald R. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001 | JC-MO-0006-0002
Other Lawyers O'Donnell, Thomas P. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001
Snower, Hortense Kleitman (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001
Swanger, Harry F. (Missouri)
JC-MO-0006-0001

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