Criswell et al v. Boudreaux (Criminal Justice and COVID-19)
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulare County Sheriff Michael Boudreaux launched a public campaign to encourage people to be “good neighbors” and wear masks to help stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Yet while the sheriff extols the virtues of mask-wearing for the general public, he has not only refused to provide face coverings to those incarcerated in his jails, he has prohibited their use – demonstrating a gross indifference to prisoners’ health and safety.
On July 29, 2020, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP filed a class action lawsuit to compel Tulare County to take immediate precautions to prevent a severe spread of COVID-19 that would expose approximately 1,900 incarcerated people to serious illness or death.
The lawsuit called for the sheriff to release as many medically vulnerable people as possible to home confinement. It further asked the court to appoint an independent monitor to make recommendations for releases so that prisoners can remain at least six feet apart from others, among other safety measures recommended by public health officials.
On Feb. 25, 2021, advocates filed new claims against the sheriff regarding his mismanagement of a COVID-19 outbreak in the county jail system and his implementation of a cruel cell confinement policy that has caused people physical and psychological harm.
On Aug. 10, 2021, after reaching a preliminary settlement agreement with the sheriff, the ACLU and co-counsel filed the preliminary agreement with the court.
On Nov. 1, we filed a motion for final approval of the settlement agreement. The motion followed another serious COVID-19 outbreak at the jails which began in early Oct. 2021, and in which at least 95 incarcerated people were infected with COVID-19. We argued that Sheriff Boudreaux had failed to react quickly and effectively to the outbreak at its onset, and that the court must swiftly grant final approval of the settlement.
On Dec. 7, 2021, the court granted final approval. The settlement order requires the sheriff to implement “a wide variety of policies to guard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the Jails.” It also authorizes an independent expert to monitor the sheriff’s implementation of those policies and requires “regular public reporting” by the sheriff.
The core terms of the settlement agreement state that the sheriff will provide CDC- and county health-agency-compliant masking, testing, vaccination, and contact tracing policies; that the jails will provide education and outreach to incarcerated individuals and staff about the efficacy of vaccines; and that the agreement can be extended if overall conditions are not safe for class members when the agreement is set to expire at the end of March 2022.
Motion for Final Approval of Settlement Agreement Press Release: ACLU Court Filing Condemns Tulare County Sheriff’s Failure to Adequately Address COVID-19 Outbreak in County Jails (Nov. 2, 2021)
Supplemental Complaint Press Release: ACLU Files New Claims Against Tulare County Sheriff Regarding COVID-19 Outbreak and Lockdown Policy in Local Jails (Feb. 25, 2021)