Prisoners at the overcrowded and understaffed Yuba County Jail have found formidable allies in law students studying civil rights at UC Davis.
Last fall, three students from the UC Davis School of Law’s renowned Civil Rights Clinic went before the county grand jury with detailed findings on how the Marysville jail is run. Among other criticisms, they said the jail has failed to provide treatment or medication for mentally ill inmates and to protect prisoners from assault by other inmates. The students’ role was made public in late May with the release of the previously confidential grand jury report for 2014-15.
The prisoners didn’t set out to get student help, but they needed representation when the Yuba County Counsel’s Office moved in Sacramento federal court to dismiss a long-ignored consent decree put in place in 1979 to govern the jail’s operation.
The California Rural Legal Assistance lawyers who filed the 1976 lawsuit that led to the consent decree, and who monitored how the Sheriff’s Department obeyed the document’s mandates, had to abandon their roles as watchdogs in 1996 because of legal and economic restrictions. So there was no enforcement of the decree’s terms for 18 years, until the County Counsel’s Office filed its motion in 2013.
Consequently, the federal court in Sacramento looked for a lawyer to represent the prisoners and reached out last year to Carter “Cappy” White, the Civil Rights Clinic’s director and supervising attorney, who agreed to take on the task. When you get White, you get his students.
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