A federal judge decided on Tuesday that a lawsuit filed against Lake County and the Montana governor will proceed as a class action case on behalf of all present and future detainees of the county jail. The lawsuit to improve circumstances at the jail gained momentum earlier this year when 38 inmates had their grievances, which were mostly centred upon unsafe and unhygienic conditions, limited access to healthcare, and refusal of religious practises, combined into one case.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, whose reservation encompasses a large portion of Lake County, are represented by many of the 54 individual plaintiffs who have joined the action. According to Constance Van Kley, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the class certification guarantees that all prisoners would benefit from any benefits granted in the action.
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Van Kley wrote in an email on Wednesday, “If the plaintiffs prevail on their constitutional claims, all prisoners will be entitled to constitutionally sufficient conditions of imprisonment.” “And all prisoners will be able to enforce the decision if the plaintiffs prevail but the circumstances in the Lake County Jail do not change.” In the meantime, Lake County is engaging in both offensive and defensive legal manoeuvres over the circumstances in its jail.
Simply because the convicts’ case gained traction, Lake County made its own public appeal to the state for money in support of Public Law 280, a 60-year-old agreement that allows tribe police to work with state and local law enforcement in their jurisdiction rather than federal law enforcement.
The county claims that the state has not contributed to the necessary funds for that agreement, leaving Lake County liable for $4 million in costs associated with areas outside of its taxable population and bringing the jail’s circumstances to a “breaking point,” according to local officials.
Lake County initially tried to negotiate state funds in that disagreement. In July, the county filed a lawsuit against the state in district court to recover the expenditures dating back to 1963, when Public Law 280 was passed after that strategy proved unsuccessful.
Lake County asserts that Gov. Greg Gianforte is accountable for the final funding and management of the costs related to Public Law 280 and has filed a crossclaim against him in the current lawsuit. Judge Donald Molloy of the U.S. District Court took note of the defence’s claim on Tuesday that many of the detainees who had submitted complaints were no longer being held at the facility and that some of those concerns were complex.
However, the judge pointed out that both those who are detained there now and those who may be kept there in the future are equally affected by the jail’s conditions. Each prisoner may have a different worry on a given day, but they are all vulnerable to the same living conditions and damages, according to Molloy.
Keep in touch with lakecountyfloridanews.com for more updates like this.