ACLU Asks Court to Grant Class Action Status in Saginaw County Jail Abuse Case

May 02, 2005

Though the Saginaw County sheriff claims that a policy of stripping and holding pre-trial detainees naked in a segregated cell has ended, there is now evidence that this long-standing practice may still exist, according to a motion to grant class certification filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan late Friday.

"Saginaw County has insisted that very few people were victims of this unconstitutional brutality," said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. "But there is now little doubt that more than a hundred people have been affected and the number could grow to two or three hundred.”

Judge David Lawson ruled, in January 2005, that the practice of holding detainees naked in segregation is unconstitutional, but he has yet to rule on damages in that case. 

The request for class action status stems from the growing number of people that have come forth since the conditions of the jail were publicized in March 2003 and the substantial likelihood that the County’s own records will reveal others who have been victimized by the County’s practices.  The number of persons who have been affected by the County’s unconstitutional practices is greater than had been suspected and far exceeds the 30 individuals who were initially identified by the County.

Evidence indicates that even after the practice was allegedly stopped in December 2001, inmates have been routinely stripped of their clothing by force and placed in “the hole.”  The policy of providing isolation cell detainees with paper gowns is not uniformly followed and the paper gowns, which tear easily, are inadequate to cover private body parts.  In addition, prisoners are forced to use the gowns either as toilet paper or to remove the mace that is sprayed in their face when the guards strip them of their clothes.

The individuals identified in the motion were held in the Saginaw County Jail isolation cell in a naked or partially-naked condition where they may have been observed by members of the opposite sex.  These isolation cells are monitored 24 hours a day by cameras from several locations.  The cameras are viewed by a wide variety of personnel within the jail. 

“We were pleased to hear that the FBI and the Department of Justice are conducting their own investigation into this matter,” added Moss.  “Hopefully, their involvement will put an end to these practices where ever they occur.”

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