The American Civil Liberties Union says it has reached a deal with Isabella County that settles claims the county jail wasn't treating female inmates fairly and didn't allow all inmates enough time outside their cells.
The ACLU of Michigan sued the county last year on behalf of inmates at the Mount Pleasant facility. It announced the settlement Thursday, saying the county now is letting inmates exercise outside their cells and is providing women with equal access to work.
The advocacy group had said women inmates were being denied access to opportunities that were available to men.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday with Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski, who said last year he wanted to work with the ACLU on the issues it raised.
"This settlement is a textbook example of how jail officials and civil rights advocates can work together to protect the basic human rights of prisoners," said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. "We congratulate Isabella County for abolishing its former policy of locking down all inmates 24/7 without any opportunity to exercise outside the cell. The new exercise policy not only brings the jail into compliance with constitutional standards, but it enhances security by reducing violence and improving the mental health of inmates."
The facility, located in Mount Pleasant, houses about 200 pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates from not only Isabella County, but also cities such as Livonia, Midland and Westland. Prior to the settlement agreement, inmates were not permitted any out-of-cell exercise for the duration of their detention, which can exceed one year.
Additionally, women were denied the opportunities male prisoners had to serve as "trustees," or trusted inmates who are permitted time out of their cells to perform prison jobs.
Under the settlement, jail officials must usually give inmates the opportunity to use a recreation room with exercise equipment for a minimum of an hour, five days a week. They must also make "best efforts" must be made to allow out-of-cell recreation seven days a week.
The county further agreed to adopt a policy to ensure that women inmates could be trustees and that the percentage of trustees who were female reflected their presence in overall jail population. Finally, the federal court will have the ability to enforce the settlement for five years if, for some reason, jail officials violate its terms.
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Copyright 2013 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.