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Lake County Officials to Improve Jail Conditions as Part of Settlement

Additional inmate housing units and an outdoor recreation area along with access to Native American religious leaders must be implemented as part of a settlement with dozens of inmates

By Maggie Dresser
Lake County Courthouse in Polson on Feb. 22, 2017. Beacon file photo.

Lake County Jail administrators will now adopt new policies and procedures and must build an outdoor recreation area along with additional inmate housing units after a U.S. District Court judge on Nov. 21 gave final approval of a settlement with the jail’s inmates, according to an Upper Seven Law news release.

The settlement comes after dozens of individual inmates filed lawsuits in 2021 and 2022 challenging the conditions of confinement in Lake County Jail as unconstitutional. The complaints were consolidated into a class action lawsuit and the inmates argued that the jail was overcrowded, and they were deprived of exercise and fresh air for weeks at a time.

Additionally, Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and Blackfeet inmates further alleged the jail allowed a Christian pastor to regularly visit the jail but provided no similar access to Native American religious leaders.

The changes will reduce overcrowding and provide inmates daily access to the outdoors for exercise and will provide inmates access to Native American religious leaders, according to the release.

According to the settlement, Lake County administrators will construct a secure outdoor recreation area of approximately 1,500 square feet of space for inmates of the Lake County Jail to be completed within a year. The agreement also requires the county to construct 960 square feet of space for additional inmate housing units to be completed within three years.

Lake County jail officials have also agreed to adopt Lexipol, which provides public safety policy services software, adapted policies and procedures.

“This agreement is a victory for inmates at the Lake County Jail and for the entire community,” Upper Seven Law attorney Constance Van Kley said in a statement. “No one should be forced to live without sunlight, fresh air, and the opportunity to exercise. Today marks a significant step toward a more humane Lake County Jail.”

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