Ongoing since 1977
In 1977, Community Legal Services filed a lawsuit to improve conditions of confinement and medical treatment for the class of all pre-trial detainees in the Maricopa County jail system. A settlement was reached requiring significant changes in the operation of the jails in order to provide humane and constitutional treatment. In 2001, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office sought to eliminate the previous judgment and end federal court oversight. In October 2005, the ACLU of Arizona and ACLU National Prison Project intervened in the case to ensure continued oversight. After a three-week trial in August 2008, Judge Wake ruled that there were continuing and serious constitutional problems in the conditions faced by all pre-trial detainees, including in the areas of medical and mental health care, food service, recreation and overcrowding. He stated that the plaintiffs had prevailed and are entitled to attorneys’ fees, and that the Court would continue to monitor for two years to assure implementation of the judgment. It is a far-reaching and important victory for the many thousands of pre-trial detainees confined in any Maricopa County Jail. The defendants’ appealed that decision but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district court was correct in finding that the MCSO did not meet constitutional standards in several areas of jail operations, and in keeping the consent decree in place. At this point, medical and mental health care are the only aspects of the original decree that remain under federal court supervision.
In August 2013, Maricopa County commissioners and the Sheriff asked the court to lift the 2008 order. Following an evidentiary hearing in March 2014 where the ACLU presented information about the ongoing deficiencies in the jails, including expert testimony, Judge Wake ruled in September 2014 that the order must remain. The court found that the jails do not provide detainees with adequate medical and mental health care and that court supervision and involvement of plaintiffs must continue. The ACLU and co-counsel continue to conduct monitoring visits and records review as part of the oversight in this case. On April 1, 2016 plaintiffs’ counsel filed a motion to enforce the 2008 order. The motion, which was filed with an expert report by a psychiatrist who visited the jails, shows that detainees who have been declared incompetent to stand trial due to their mental health problems languish in jail without receiving necessary treatment.
Update: Despite a federal court order from 2008, the Maricopa County jails – overseen by Sheriff Joe Arpaio –continue to skirt their constitutional responsibility for detainees' mental health. On April 1, 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona – which have represented the detainees at the Maricopa County jails for close to 20 years – filed a motion to enforce the 2008 order. Many detainees with mental illnesses were still suffering unnecessarily from the scarcity and poor quality of the jails' care.