Friday, January 06, 2006

Sheriff, county in contempt of court

Gretchen Schuldt of Story Hill's Hood Happenings reports:

Judge rips Sheriff Clarke's jail operations, but denies damages

Milwaukee County this week was found in contempt of court by a judge who said conditions that existed in the jail booking room "are unacceptable, if not appalling."

Descriptions of conditions by detainees and former detainees included "overly crowded conditions, inmates who were forced to sit or sleep on the floor next to urinals, inmates who had to sit up for hours and hours, lack of hygiene, unsanitary conditions, inmates who were not given pillows or blankets to sleep on, cells that were infested with bugs, cold temperatures, bodily fluids on the floor and bad odors," Circuit Judge Clare Fiorenza said in her decision...

Sheriff David Clarke's department violated the consent decree by detaining more than 16,000 inmates more than 30 hours each in the crowded jail booking room over a 2 1/2 year period.

"The sheer number of violations, 16,662, is staggering," Fiorenza wrote, adding: "Although Milwaukee County contends that it was unaware of the extent of the problem, it is beyond this Court's comprehension how over 16,000 violations of the consent decree could go undetected."

"This court is satisfied, and so finds, that the actions of Milwaukee County officials were intentional," she said.

There were violations before March 2002, when Clarke was appointed sheriff, but numbers soared after he was sworn in and remained high until the ACLU and Legal Aid brought the contempt motion, records show.

While there were 18 violations in December 2001 and 20 in January 2002, for example, there were 518 in December 2002 and 830 in January 2003.

Sheriff's deputies complained to a County Board committee in December 2002 and January 2003 that overcrowding in the booking room was creating unsafe work conditions, Fiorenza said. Those complaints "should have raised suspicions and prompted further investigation of the situation in the booking area of the jail; however, the record does not demonstrate that any action was taken by the county."
Links to the full decision and earlier stories can be found on the Story Hill site.


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