The lawsuit says that more than 2,000 women have had their health adversely affected by dangerous mold.
Five law firms are filing a class action against the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Center in southeast Michigan, claiming that chronic mold problems in the prison have jeopardized the health of more than 2,000 inmates.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the lawsuit says that Huron Valley is overcrowded and under-staffed. The class action further claims that poor management has led to it “operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women and staff alike daily.”
Jon Marko, a Detroit-based attorney with Marko Law, told The Center Square that Huron Valley’s reputation precedes the suit.
“This prison has a long history of problems,” Marko said. “Dilapidated conditions, unsafe conditions, and unconstitutional conditions.”
“This has been going on for a long time,” he added. “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.”
Past complaints and attempts to litigate have detailed the prison’s leaky roofs and inadequate ventilation. The facility’s heating, cooling and air-conditioning systems are nearly a half-century old and have yet to be replaced.
The culmination of bad management and lackluster upkeep have led to toxic molds forming throughout Huron Valley’s residential compound.
“The mold has taken a significant toll on the women incarcerated in WHV, both physically and mentally,” the lawsuit states.
“The mold has caused respiratory infections, coughing, wheezing, rashes, dizziness, and fatigue,” the suit says, “all symptoms which, in turn, impact the inflicted’s [sic] mental health and which may lead to serious, long-lasting physical effects, such as asthma, life-threatening secondary infections, insomnia, memory loss, trouble concentrating and confusion.”
The lawsuit further alleges that conditions in Huron Valley violate the Michigan Department of Corrections obligation to perform “preventative and emergency maintenance” at “all state-owned correctional facilities to ensure the proper functioning of all electrical, mechanical and plumbing equipment and systems.”
However, spokespeople for the Department of Corrections have protested the claims contained in the class action.
Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said that, while the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation, it disagrees with the suit’s core premise. The Press, for instance, cited a state budget allocation of almost $500,000 to replace restroom exhaust fans because “existing fans are beyond repair, resulting in limited to no ventilation” and because “lack of proper ventilation results in potential health and safety issues for prisoners and staff.”
But Gautz maintains that, despite the budget allocation, there was never really a problem at Huron Valley.
“What’s really happening is we have a good ventilation system in our showers, but after some analysis, it was determined it could be more efficient,” he said, framing the request for additional finances as “a routine maintenance project.”
Mark, though, says that such comments constitute little more than commonplace attempts to counter well-substantiated claims.
“This is just another in a long line of denials, deceptions and deflections,” Marko said. “They ignore everything they can get away with.”
“The women have complained about the presence of mold in the facility for years, and continue to do so, but their pleas have been ignored,” the suit says, citing inmate letters and meetings dating to between 2013 and 2018.
Marko says all that prisoners want from the Michigan Department of Corrections is “civilized living conditions,” for inmates and facility staff alike.
“We are 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.”