Thirty-eight inmates sue Lake County, alleging inhumane and discriminatory jail conditions

For Immediate ReleaseContact: Constance Van Kley, Upper Seven Law, 406-306-0330**

Thirty-eight inmates sue Lake County, alleging inhumane and discriminatory jail conditions**[MISSOULA, MONTANA]

Thirty-eight individuals incarcerated at the Lake County jail in Polson have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the conditions at the Lake County jail. The jail is dangerous, unhygienic, and overcrowded—even though Lake County settled a similar lawsuit in 1995, promising to make improvements. Over the past several decades, the jail has only grown less habitable. Inmates are often left without hot water and basic toiletries, they do not have access to fresh air or sunlight, they are forced to sleep on the floor, and they must bang on doors and shout to get the attention of guards. Further, mold grows on walls and mattresses, the heating and ventilation systems are inadequate, and there is frequently standing water on the floor. The inmates allege that these conditions, among others, violate the federal and state constitutions and Montana jail standards. The majority of inmates at the jail, like most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are enrolled members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The Native American plaintiffs claim that the jail only provides access to Christian religious ceremonies, in violation of the federal and state constitutions, as well as Montana’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This group also alleges that, by charging inmates every time they ask for medical care, Lake County violates their rights to adequate, cost-free healthcare secured by the Hellgate Treaty of 1855. “The conditions in the Lake County jail evidence not only disrespect for inmates’ constitutional rights but disregard for their humanity,” said Constance Van Kley, Litigation Directorat Upper Seven Law. “These discriminatory, dangerous conditions are unlawful, and they need to change.” The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the county has violated the plaintiffs’ rights and to put an end to the practices giving rise to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are represented by Tim Bechtold of Bechtold Law Firm in Missoula andConstance Van Kley and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan of Upper Seven Lawin Helena.

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