Housing Detainees in High-Temperature Areas Constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Oct 18, 2010

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court judgment that housing pretrial detainees in a jail where temperatures exceeded 85° F amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment as to detainees who were taking psychotropic medications that made high temperatures a significant health risk.

In 1977, Fred Graves, Isaac Popoca, and others, (collectively, Graves), indigent prisoners in Maricopa County jails in Arizona, sued the county sheriff and the county supervisors (collectively, the sheriff) on behalf of all of the detainees in the county jails. Graves alleged that the conditions of his confinement violated his constitutional rights and that, among other things, the temperature was dangerously high and there was inadequate food.

From 1977 through 1995, the district court adopted the terms of an agreement that addressed each of the detainee’s claims and later amended it to reflect changes in the prison population, jail construction, advances in medical treatment, and the evolution of the law. In 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was enacted. The PLRA offers amendments and supplements to the U.S. Code to restrict and discourage litigation by prisoners. In 1998, the sheriff moved to terminate the amended judgment but was denied. In 2001, the appellate court vacated the order and remanded, upon which the sheriff renewed his motion. In 2008 the district court heard evidence pursuant to the PLRA and issued a second amendment that ordered the sheriff house pretrial detainees who were taking psychotropic medications in cells where the temperature did not exceed 85° F and to provide detainees with food that satisfied the government’s dietary guidelines. The sheriff appealed, arguing that the district court improperly order prospective relief without giving him an opportunity to propose different solutions. He also asserted that the ordered relief was not the least intrusive means of correcting the violations. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment.

This case is: Graves v. Arpaio; 9th Cir.; October 13th, 2010; 08-17601