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