September 2019

Recent ABA article on federal lawsuit brought by prisoners at the Lake County Jail

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I read a shocking article regarding terrible conditions at the Lake County Jail during a shutoff of the building's water supply for three days in 2017. See Debra Cassens Weiss, 7th Circuit allows suit over clogged toilets, unsanitary conditions in 3-day water shutdown at jail. ABA Journal, August 13, 2019 (online version, found at ABAJournal.com). The county jailhouse authorities wanted to put in place a new water pump, and so shut off the water for three days while working on it.[1] While the water system was unavailable, the guards were supposed to supply prisoners with enough drinking water during the three day period, but it seems that they did not. Prisoners only received five bottles of water each day, to be used for things like drinking, washing hands and brushing teeth.[2] They also were provided with water barrels to be used and shared by prisoners for bathing and flushing toilets. These were not adequate either, as human waste accumulated in toilets everywhere in the jail.[3] The feces attracted flies and other pests, and the smell became unbearable. Prisoners were sickened by the odors, and became dehydrated and weak from the lack of water.[4] If they complained or asked for more water, prisoners could be punished by being locked in their cells. The shutdown ended, but the prisoners brought a federal lawsuit for violation of their 14th Amendment rights.[5] The Lake County Sheriff and Chief of Corrections denied the allegations, and claimed qualified immunity as a defense. The federal circuit court rejected this, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that having adequate access to water and a clean living environment is a basic right.[6] The case discussed is Hardeman vs. Curran, (No. 18-2672, 17 C 8729).[7]

Others have commented on this case, such as one of the attorneys for the prisoners, who stated that this was one of the worst incidents that he has seen in Lake County, and that if it was not challenged, things could get even worse. See Matt Reynolds, Inmates Say Jailers Deprived Them of Drinking Water. Courthouse News Service, December 5, 2017.[8] In fact, jail guards told prisoners that they could not lodge a grievance about what happened with the water, and the attorney for the prisoners stated that they would attempt to enjoin officials at the jail from ever restricting their water again.[9]

[1] See Debra Cassens Weiss, 7th Circuit allows suit over clogged toilets, ABA Journal, August 13, 2019.

[2] See Id.

[3] See Id.

[4] See Id.

[5] See Id.

[6] See Id.

[7] See Id.

[8] See Matt Reynolds, Inmates Say Jailers Deprived Them of Drinking Water, December 5, 2017

[9] See Id.

-Attorney Matthew Ludwinski