Women and children had their first opportunity ever last week to exercise outside at the Missoula County Detention Facility.
Until now, only male prisoners not in solitary confinement were able to exercise outdoors. The outdoor recreation yard was off limits to women, children and men in administrative segregation. When the ACLU found that out in 2012, we sued the county demanding that all prisoners at the detention center be given the opportunity for outdoor exercise. The two new exercise yards are the products of that lawsuit, Chief Goes Out, et al v. Missoula County.
It was clear to us in 2012 that allowing men, but not women or children to recreate outside an hour a day was not only gender and age discrimination, but also a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The plaintiffs in the case reported serious physical and psychological damage caused by their inability to get fresh air or sunlight. Women spoke to us about skin conditions and depression. They told us that they would take turns standing in the small slivers of sunlight that filtered into the room where they were allowed to exercise. Some spend as much as a year at the jail. Imagine that -- a year with no access to the sunlight and fresh air of the outdoors.
In the summer of 2013, the ACLU of Montana settled with Missoula County when the county agreed to build outdoor exercise areas for women, juvenile and administrative segregation prisoners and for one officer to be hired to escort prisoners to those yards.
We're grateful that we were able to make a difference and that ALL prisoners at the Missoula County Detention Center can now spend a little time in the sun.