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Brown County Jail Overcrowded, Has Inmates Sleeping on Pads on Floor

In today’s local slice of South Dakota’s incarceration crisis, the Brown County Jail has been running at nearly double its capacity:

Sheriff Mark Milbrandt said that the number of inmates going in and out of the jail in a single day reached as high as 101 in the last month. He was discussing the 2020 budget during the commission meeting at the courthouse.

Chief Deputy Dave Lunzman clarified that the 101 count included all inmates entering and leaving the facility during that day. They didn’t all have to spend the night.

“Which is still more than we’ve ever done,” Lunzman said.

He said that on July 17, the inmate population reached 81 overnight inmates.

…The jail has 48 beds. When there are more inmates than that, there are cots or pads that can be placed on the floor to accommodate the extra bodies.

Inmates have also been transported from Brown County to the Faulk County Jail, Milbrandt said.

The charge to house out-of-county inmates is $85 per inmate per night, Faulk County Sheriff Kurt Hall previously told the American News [Shannon Marvel, “Brown County Jail Population Could Take Toll on Budget {paywall},” Aberdeen American News, 2019.07.31].

Cots and pads on the floor? Hmmm… not that Brown County is part of the United Nations, but Rule 21 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules) says, “Every prisoner shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.” American Bar Association Standard on Treatment of Prisons 23-3.3(b) says, “Correctional authorities should provide each prisoner, at a minimum, with a bed and mattress off the floor, a writing area and seating, an individual secure storage compartment sufficient in size to hold personal belongings and legal papers, a source of natural light, and light sufficient to permit reading.” In 2007, a federal judge in California ruled that Los Angeles County Jail officials violated inmates’ right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment by making them sleep on the floor:

U.S District Judge Dean D. Pregerson said jail officials were guilty of “deliberate indifference” when they failed to provide inmates with bunks.

“Quite simply, that a custom of leaving inmates nowhere to sleep but the floor constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is nothing short of self-evident,” Pregerson concluded in a 33-page decision in a class-action lawsuit, which was released Friday [Matt Lait, “Judge Finds Inmate Rights Violated,” Los Angeles Times, 2007.09.24].

And even if we truck in some new beds, overcrowding puts inmates and jail staff alike at greater risk of violence.

Deputy Lunzman says part of the problem is more drug offenders. South Dakota’s next Attorney General, Brown County State’s Attorney Chris White, says delays in getting offenders their day in court is also flooring inmates. Whatever the causes, it looks like Brown County is going to have to tax more or charge more to house all of its inmates safely and humanely.


  1. Debbo 2019-07-31 18:10

    It looks like harmful indifference to incarcerated people is spreading from Cruel Creep on down.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-31 21:12

    The officials in charge of the jail seem rather nonchalant about it. The discussion reported in the paper appeared to focus on money, not human rights and minimum jail safety and health standards.

    I couldn’t find any state laws dictating minimum standards for our jails. Readers, do you know if any such statutory requirements exist? To what standards, if any, are our county jails held on treatment of inmates?

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-07-31 21:32

    Decriminalizing marijuana would mitigate the issues of human rights violations, cruel and unusual punishment, minimum jail safety, jail overcrowding and health standard violations.
    *If a citizen is discovered with a small amount of marijuana, the violator is issued a ticket for a hundred dollar fine, which can be mailed in. Two hundred bucks for a second offense. No probation, no urine test, nothing on your permanent record. A hundred bucks because possession of a small amount of marijuana has almost no harmful effects to Aberdeen. The current law is based on revenge and profit enhancement. It’s just mean spirited and harmful to economic growth.

  4. bearcreekbat 2019-08-01 01:37

    Cory, statutory standards must comply with constitutional requirements, including

    Prison officials have a duty under the Eighth Amendment to provide humane conditions of confinement. They must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,

    Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 494 (7th Cir. 2006), reverses a summary judgment for the prison and orders a trial on a claim alleging an 8th Amendment violation due in part to failure to provide a bed, analyzing some of the case law addressing the requirement to provide a bed to an inmate.

    . . . life’s necessities include shelter and heat, . . . Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 568 (10th Cir.1980) (“[A] state must provide . . . reasonably adequate ventilation, sanitation, bedding, hygienic materials, and utilities ( i.e., hot and cold water, light, heat, plumbing).”); Maxwell v. Mason, 668 F.2d 361, 365 (8th Cir.1981) (confinement in isolation without adequate clothing or bedding supports an Eighth Amendment claim: “clothing is a `basic necessity of human existence'”). In McCray v. Burrell, 516 F.2d 357 (4th Cir. 1975), an inmate was confined 2 days in a cell where for part of the first night a concrete slab was his bed. A mattress was furnished later during that night, but no blankets were supplied. The inmate was so cold he tore open the mattress and slept inside it. . . . Some conditions of confinement may establish an Eighth Amendment violation in combination when each alone would not do so. This is true when the deprivations have a mutually enforcing effect which produces the deprivation of a single, identifiable human need, such as food or warmth, for example “a low cell temperature at night combined with a failure to issue blankets.” Wilson v. Setter, 501 U.S. 294, 304, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991).

    . . .

    What the cases show is that the principle on which Gillis relies is well-established, and the inquiry as to whether there is a violation is fact-specific. Because of competing facts and inferences in this case, whether Gillis was denied the “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities” cannot be determined on summary judgment.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-01 13:03

    Dang—I don’t know if the Brown County Sheriff lets inmates read Dakota Free Press (maybe they do, if they think this blog is torture!), but if any inmates are reading, they should perhaps keep track of how many nights they spend sleeping on the floor of a crowded cell, then read Gillis, then file a complaint demanding that the judge dismiss their charges.

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