JAIL ENVIRONMENT

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FYI: The city will not have to renovate its jail facilities to accommodate new sleeping arrangements and better lighting thanks to a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling this week. The court reversed a lower court ruling in a legal dispute that goes back to the late 1970s, when detainees won a host of environmental improvements in its jails. After passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, the city successfully moved to have some of those regulations repealed, arguing that the rulings that created them violated technical requirements of the new law. Since then, Legal Aid Society has been trying to win the concessions back. In 2000, Legal Aid won a new District Court order for the city to fix a host of problems, from poor ventilation to lighting. The city appealed, and this week the Second Circuit offered a mixed response. It upheld most of the lower court’s remedies, but rejected the orders that would force the city to ensure that prisoners’ heads are at least six feet apart when sleeping–instead of the current three feet–and that they get at least 20 “candle-feet” of light in their cells or dorms. The court also agreed with Legal Aid’s charge that inmates are served food that has been contaminated by rats in some facilities, and ordered the lower court to come up with a remedy for the problem. [9/4/03]