Comprehensive Settlement Reached in Santa Barbara County Jail Class Action Lawsuit

Press Release
Photo of the inside of a jail.

(Santa Barbara, CA ) On behalf of the hundreds of people incarcerated in Santa Barbara County Jail, Disability Rights California, Prison Law Office, and King & Spalding LLP have reached a groundbreaking settlement with Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office in a class action lawsuit that seeks to address the dangerous and unconstitutional conditions at the jail.  

The settlement in Murray v. County of Santa Barbara (C.D. Cal. Case No. 2:17-cv-08805-GW-JPR) is the product of several months of negotiations that was guided by the input of people incarcerated at the jail as well as local advocates and stakeholders, and by the detailed reports of five nationally recognized experts who conducted assessments of the County’s jail system as part of the case. The proposed settlement remains subject to approval by the federal court.

“We have communicated with hundreds of people held in the Santa Barbara County Jail, and have heard again and again that the conditions there are simply intolerable.  The design and conditions of this half-century old jail have no place in modern society,” said Aaron Fischer, litigation counsel at Disability Rights California.  “This settlement comes at a moment of critical urgency and great opportunity.  The jail’s dangerous conditions are compounded by the tremendous risk that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to our clients.  And we are also seeing a long overdue discussion about institutional racism and mass incarceration, both of which disproportionately harm people—especially people of color—with mental health needs and other disabilities.  With this settlement, the community should expect significant improvements in conditions at the Santa Barbara County Jail.”

The Murray lawsuit alleges that conditions at the jail do not meet minimum standards under the United States Constitution and federal law. The Murray class argued that Santa Barbara County and the Sheriff’s Office have failed to provide adequate mental health and medical care, overused and misused solitary confinement, discriminated against people with disabilities, and allowed for unsanitary and unsafe living conditions for people incarcerated at the jail.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Clay Murray, is a U.S. Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who uses a wheelchair.  While in custody at Santa Barbara County Jail, he received no meaningful treatment to help him with his mental health condition.  He was confined in a housing unit that was inaccessible to people with physical disabilities.  Activities as basic as taking a shower or using the toilet put Mr. Murray at risk of injury every day.  Due to overcrowding and the lack of accessible beds, Mr. Murray was forced to sleep on the floor many nights.

“We are encouraged that the County and the Sheriff have agreed to a remedial plan necessary to fix the serious problems that have persisted at the jail for far too long,” stated Julia Romano, a partner at King & Spalding.  “We also appreciate how seriously the Sheriff and his staff have taken their legal and constitutional obligations, and expressed a commitment to meaningful change.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the jail population has been reduced by more than 35 percent.  “Maintaining and further reducing the current jail population—and shrinking the footprint of the County’s jail system—is, without question, the best pathway to cost-effective and successful implementation of the remedial plan,” said Corene Kendrick, staff attorney at the Prison Law Office. “It’s the right thing to do for the safety and well-being of our class members, and it’s the right thing to do for the Santa Barbara County community at large.”

Under the settlement agreement, Plaintiffs’ class counsel and designated court-appointed experts will monitor implementation of the remedial measures.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at:
https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/cases/murray-v-county-of-santa-barbara

Media Coverage:

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
916-504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) - Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

The Prison Law Office - Is a non-profit public interest law firm that protects the rights of people incarcerated in correctional facilities. Visit www.prisonlaw.com.  

King & Spalding - Celebrating more than 130 years of service, King & Spalding is an international law firm that represents a broad array of clients, including half of the Fortune Global 100, with over 1,200 lawyers in 22 offices in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The firm has handled matters in over 160 countries on six continents and is consistently recognized for the results it obtains, uncompromising commitment to quality, and dedication to understanding the business and culture of its clients. More information is available at www.kslaw.com.