Federal judge orders more sleep for Alameda County jail inmates

A federal judge has ordered fewer nighttime interruptions and longer “lights-out” hours for Alameda County jail inmates in response to a class action lawsuit alleging widespread sleep deprivation in lockup.

In his Monday preliminary injunction, San Francisco U.S. District Judge James Donato put an end to 2:30 a.m. pill calls, noisy overnight maintenance work and 4 a.m. breakfasts. His decision comes after a group of female inmates at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin detailed these policies in a December complaint, saying their lack of shut-eye amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorneys for the Sheriff’s Office said the early morning pill calls — which are announced by loud verbal calls and sometimes broadcast through the public address system — were necessary for certain ailments like diabetes.

Early breakfast, the sheriff’s office had argued, ensured time to transport inmates to court the next morning. But the judge ordered that instead of 4 a.m., breakfast will now be served no earlier than 5 a.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. on weekends. Pill calls will also be switched to those times.

Lights-out hours ran from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. every day but are now from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekends and court holidays.

The plaintiffs, represented by Yolanda Huang and Dennis Cunningham, persuaded Donato to order a ban on repairs, maintenance or announcements over the public address system during lights-out hours, absent “exigent circumstances.”

Donato last month ordered a preliminary injunction calling for longer stretches of slumber for the inmates, and directed attorneys from both sides to hammer out the details together.

But attorneys for the inmates and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t reach an agreement, and instead filed separate proposals, leading to the judge’s order.

Donato, who described himself as “very sleep-deprivation sensitive” at a March hearing on the matter, gave plaintiffs nearly everything they asked for in his Monday order.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman with the Sheriff’s Office, said jail officials will comply with the judge’s orders.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Huang and Cunningham also represent female Alameda County inmates in another suit filed more than a year ago, which alleged mistreatment of pregnant prisoners.

Huang and Cunningham could not be reached for comment.

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Federal-judge-orders-more-sleep-for-Alameda-13786837.php.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *