(Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Federal court orders SF sheriff to give inmates access to sunlight, exercise

A federal magistrate has ordered that San Francisco County jail inmates who have been in pretrial custody for more than four years must be given access to at least one hour of direct sunlight per week.

U.S. Magistrate Sallie Kim issued a preliminary injunction in San Francisco Friday in a lawsuit filed last year by a group of inmates who claimed that lack of access to sunlight and outdoor exercise was unconstitutional cruel punishment. Kim also ordered that inmates in administrative segregation, sometimes known as solitary confinement, at the county jails on 850 Bryant St. and in San Bruno must be given at least one hour of exercise per day in the gym for five days per week. More than 90 percent of the inmates at the two jails are in pretrial detention awaiting trial. Inmates in administrative segregation are kept in their cells 23 and one-half hours per day at the Bryant Street jail and 23 hours per day at the San Bruno facility.

Kim wrote, “That society would incarcerate a human being — who has not yet been found guilty and therefore is legally innocent and who has not committed a specific disciplinary violation — by locking him up in a small cell for 23 and one-half hours a day is unacceptable.” Yolanda Huang, a lawyer for the inmates, said in a statement, “The preliminary injunction declares that holding pretrial detainees where they do not see direct sunlight for years is impermissible punishment.

“A prisoner in a San Francisco County Jail never gets to see the sun, or feel sunlight on his skin. Those who are held in jail for long periods of time slowly develop chronic health diseases including endocrine disorders such as diabetes, cognitive dysfunctions and memory losses,” Huang said.

A spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, which defended the city and the Sheriff’s Department in the case, was not immediately available for comment.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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