A moldy basement, with inadequate ventilation and no natural light may be a good place to store tools and old furniture, but it's not the place to house prisoners.
That's just what's happening in the Custer County Jail, and it violates those prisoners constitutional rights.
The ACLU of Montana is working to protect those prisoners. We sent Custer County officials letters on August 14 and August 23 demanding that it stop housing prisoners in these unsanitary, unsafe and unconstitutional conditions.
The ACLU of Montana and National ACLU monitor and advocate for safe and humane prison and jail conditions in Montana and across the country through the Montana Prison Project and the National Prison Project.
The Custer County Jail was built in 1904, with the basement added in 1975. According to officials there, it is capable of holding 18 prisoners.
When ACLU of Montana Staff Attorney Anna Conley and Paralegal Krystel Pickens toured the jail in June, they found fire safety violations, a lack of ventilation, mold and no access to natural light, fresh air or outdoor recreation. Prisoners in the basement were taken from their cells for two hours a day only to stand in a narrow hallway with no windows. The ceiling was falling in places and medical services were inadequate. In short, the jail violates constitutional standards.
We are now trying to work with county officials to remove prisoners from these conditions.
"I assure you that we are not insensitive to the financial problems facing the County," wrote Conley in her August 23 letter to Custer County. "However, I am not confident that the County will resolve this issue in a timely manner, and we simply cannot sit by while people are housed in those conditions and wait. If the County wishes to operate a jail, then it has to operate one that meets constitutional standards."
That's why we've set a deadline of October 8 for Custer County to find another place to house prisoners. If a solution is not found by then, we may sue.