FILE - Prison, jail, inmate, corrections

Five firms are suing the Huron Valley Correctional Facility for Women (WHV) claiming it is rife with “inhumane, dangerous and unconstitutional conditions.”

The 52-page lawsuit cites leaky roofs, outdated equipment, inadequate ventilation and other unsafe conditions in the Ypsilanti prison that houses about 2,100 inmates.

The lawsuit names three plaintiffs: Paula Bailey, Krystal Clark and Hope Zentz, who say that WHV is underfunded, understaffed, overcrowded and “is operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women and staff alike daily.”

The lawsuit, filed against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and 12 employees, claims mold infestation and inadequate medical care have persisted for six years, despite complaints.

The lawsuit claims many of the WHV’s roofs leak, leading to damp environments, compounded by a 43-year-old HVAC system. A WHV Annual Physical Plant report recommended replacing five HVAC units 20 years ago.

The outdated HVAC system leads to ongoing exposure to harmful mold caused “by WHV’s unclean, dilapidated conditions and lack of ventilation,” according to the complaint, molds which have caused “respiratory infections, coughing, wheezing, rashes, dizziness, and fatigue” that could lead to long-lasting health conditions.

The lawsuit claims WHV conditions violate the defendents’ duty that “[p]reventative and emergency maintenance shall be performed at all state-owned correctional facilities to ensure the proper functioning of all electrical, mechanical, and plumbing equipment and systems as well as the facility’s physical plant.”

“Deficiencies which may threaten the health or welfare of staff or offenders shall be corrected immediately whenever possible,” the suit said, citing the MDOC’s Sanitation and Housekeeping Standards Policy Directive, which calls for the Regional Environmental Sanitarian to determine temporary, corrective measures.

Jon Marko, an attorney for Detroit-based Marko Law PLLC representing the plaintiffs, told The Center Square the firms brought 8th Amendment violation claims for cruel and unusual punishment.

“This prison has a long history of problems: dilapidated conditions, unsafe conditions, and unconstitutional conditions,” Marko said, adding that the prison’s problems have been ignored for decades, including recent scabies outbreaks, in addition to harmful mold.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Marko said. “To make matters worse, there’s no ventilation. So these women are trapped in these boxes and are literally being poisoned on a daily basis, with no ventilation.”

Marko said the lawsuit seeks for the MDOC to provide “civilized living conditions” for inmates and facility employees.

“We’re not asking for an idyllic vacation retreat for prisoners,” Marko said. “What we’re asking for is bare-minimum in a civilized society of living conditions that are not dangerous and unsafe.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.