The settlement in a class-action lawsuit over conditions in Oneida County jails is in the final stages, attorneys say. If passed, women held in prison would be able to stay in the same type of housing as their male counterparts.
The lawsuit, originally filed in May 2020 by three women incarcerated at the jail against Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol and Chief Deputy Corrections Officer Lisa Zurek, alleges the women were discriminated against after being moved to a larger, smaller section of the jail in early 2020. The women said they were subjected to worse conditions than their male counterparts — who were held in more modern houses — including cells without windows and inferior access to showers, phones, recreational equipment and work schedules.
A joint motion for final approval of a settlement agreement in the lawsuit was filed Tuesday, according to filings with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. A final hearing on the settlement will be held at noon on Friday, October 21 in federal court in Albany.
The women returned to the jail’s newest legroom-style section in January after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction filed in the lawsuit. Under the terms of the settlement, women in general custody will continue to be held there and have access to the same amenities as their male counterparts, including access to an outdoor recreation yard and the same work and education programs.
“It’s really a major victory for the women who were there in the first place,” said Joshua Cotter, an attorney with the Legal Services of Central New York who is representing the plaintiffs. “Now women in prison will benefit greatly from their advocacy.”
All three women who originally filed the lawsuit — Sarah Barrett, Nicole Williamson and Shannon Terrell — are no longer in prison.
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The county will also pay $133,853 in legal fees. Barrett, the sole plaintiff remaining in the suit, will receive $5,000 for her time spent on the case, according to court records.
“Without her this wouldn’t have happened,” Cotter said of Barrett, who first spoke to the Observer-Dispatch about prison conditions in early 2020.
Information about the settlement has been posted in women’s housing at the Oneida County Jail, with information on how to contact them if they object to the settlement before the hearing, according to an affidavit by Zurek. Kotter said he did not expect objections to the settlement, making it likely the judge would approve it.
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David Walsh, an attorney representing Maciol and Zurek, said it was agreed that the settlement was the best solution for both parties.
“Throughout the trial there were always discussions between the county and the women inmates as to a solution,” he said. “The big takeaway from that was [the women in general custody] would be housed in the prison’s pod units.”
H. Rose Schneider covers public safety, breaking and breaking news for the Observer-Dispatch in Utica. Email Rose at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Observer-Dispatch: Women in Oneida County Jail to receive similar housing as men in deal