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Judge Says Long-Term Jail Inmates Entitled To 15 Minutes Of Sunlight

A federal judge ruled in favor of California jail inmate who suffered from denial of sunlight access, Courthouse News Service reports. The judge said San Francisco violated the Fourteenth Amendment rights of prisoners at County Jail 3 in San Bruno. “Given the need for daily access to direct sunlight, the fact that plaintiffs began suffering from medical problems approximately a year after they were incarcerated, and the failure to identify the amount of time for daily exposure, the court rules that defendant must offer to each inmate who has been incarcerated for longer than a year the following: daily access to direct sunlight, weather permitting and in the absence of an emergency (including but not limited to a global pandemic or prison riot) for at least 15 minutes,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Kim.

Plaintiffs are inmates who sought to represent the class of prisoners housed at San Bruno and the now-defunct San Francisco Hall of Justice. They claim they were kept in strict solitary confinement in tiny cells and were not given sufficient room to exercise, a problem that worsened during the pandemic. Kim found the city was “recklessly indifferent” when it deprived prisoners of access to direct sunlight, writing that there was “no valid governmental interest” in denying direct sunlight to inmates. Kim wrote there was nothing stopping the defendants from constructing an outdoor exercise yard and noted that other facilities in the area have outdoor exercise yards. Kim said that the California Board of State and Community Corrections sets minimum standards for the physical structure in which detainees can be housed. The standards call for an outdoor exercise yard in every Type II facility in the state. Kim did say there was no violation when the city confined prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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