Lawsuit Claims Santa Clara County Jail's Solitary Confinement is ‘Inhumane' and ‘Unconstitutional'

The complaints and legal actions aimed at the operation of the Santa Clara County Jail continued to mount Wednesday.

A public interest law firm filed what is intended to be a class-action lawsuit in federal court calling the county's use of solitary confinement is inhumane and unconstitutional.

Prison Law Office filed the lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday on behalf of two inmates, including Joseph Vejar, who is awaiting trial on drug-related charges. Lawyers with the firm said hundreds of other inmates awaiting trial are being abused by the sheriff's use of solitary confinement.

"It's altered him mentally the way they house him," Vejar's wife, Benee, said. "I'm the only source of any kind of sanity."

Prison Law Office said it is not seeking money, but changes.

"The county cannot violate their constitutional rights by housing them or locking them in tiny, cramped cells," said Kelly Knapp, attorney with Prison Law Office. "Or denying them their basic human needs of exercise, sunlight, human interaction."

The law office also wants a meeting with Sheriff Laurie Smith.

"We are suing because the sheriff has not responded to our complaints in an appropriate manner," said Donald Specter, attorney with Prison Law Office.

Santa Clara County Sheriff's spokesperson Sgt. James Jensen released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"We appreciate the perspective brought by the Prison Law Office and in fact this past June we engaged a nationally respected consultant, on jail operations to advise the County on where the County can improve our custody operations. The consultant will provide the County with a recommended action plan and provide training to our staff. Additionally, we have already taken steps to improve operations in our custody facilities. We encourage the public, Blue Ribbon Commission on Custody Operations to also review the issues highlighted by the Prison Law Office. We believe that the more eyes on our custody operations, the better."

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