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Suit Attacks Putting Inmates in ‘Rubber Rooms’

Times Staff Writer

An ACLU lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Department charges that inmates are sometimes punished by being thrown naked into “rubber rooms” that are empty except for a hole in the floor for their excrement, a condition that violates “minimal concepts of decency.”

The American Civil Liberties Union suit also says the rubber rooms have no light, heat or bedding and that inmates are forced to sleep on the floor in close proximity to their own waste. Since there are no eating utensils or toilet paper, the suit charges that the inmates must clean themselves and eat with their unwashed hands.

“Because of the unspeakably vile conditions of the rubber rooms, no human being should be held in such conditions for any reason,” says the suit, filed Friday.

Sheriff’s Lt. Richard J. Olson said he could not comment on the case “since the attorneys are handling it.” He also declined to describe the so-called rubber rooms or to identify their proper name.

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Deputy County Counsel Stefen H. Weiss, who is representing the Sheriff’s Department in the case, also declined to comment.

The suit was prepared by Dick Herman, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU. It was filed in federal court in Santa Ana on behalf of three current inmates at the Orange County central jail, but Herman is seeking to represent all of the jail’s inmates through a class action.

Herman said a hearing is scheduled Nov. 1 in federal court to consider a preliminary injunction prohibiting the sheriff from using the rooms.

The suit says that inmates--some of whom may be awaiting trial--are put in the rubber rooms for intoxication, combativeness and being uncooperative or “bizarre.” Those terms come from pre-printed forms used by jail deputies to report the reasons for placing an inmate in the rubber room, the suit says.

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