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Case Name Ahrens v. Thomas JC-MO-0016
Docket / Court 74 CV 34-SJ ( 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 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). It 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 impermissibly 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.

[The County Jail went out of use in April, 1979, when the Jail was moved to the County Courthouse. In August of 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.]

Greg Venker - 05/16/2006


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Male
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Fire safety
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Mail
Phone
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Visiting
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Platte County Jail
Platte County Jail
Plaintiff Description pretrial detainees in Platte County Jail
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se Unknown
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Unknown
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 1977 - 1979
Filing Year 1974
Case Closing Year 1979
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing JC-MO-0001 : Goldsby v. Carnes (W.D. Mo.)
Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Order (434 F.Supp. 873) (W.D. Mo.)
JC-MO-0016-7500.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/03/1977
Opinion (570 F.2d 286)
JC-MO-0016-7501.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/17/1978
show all people docs
Judges Oliver, John Watkins (W.D. Mo.) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500
Stephenson, Roy Laverne (S.D. Iowa, Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7501
Plaintiff's Lawyers Dittmeier, William J. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500 | JC-MO-0016-7501
Roseman, Ronald L. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500 | JC-MO-0016-7501
Steinberg, Andrew J. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500 | JC-MO-0016-7501
Defendant's Lawyers Hull, Owens Lee Jr. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500 | JC-MO-0016-7501
Tharp, Donald R. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500 | JC-MO-0016-7501
Other Lawyers O'Donnell, Thomas P. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500
Snower, Hortense Kleitman (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500
Swanger, Harry F. (Missouri) show/hide docs
JC-MO-0016-7500

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