For San Francisco County Jail inmates, the sun will shine a little brighter after a judge’s groundbreaking decision on Monday. Long-term inmates at San Bruno jail, the city’s largest facility, are now entitled to 15 minutes of pure sunlight every day. This change is a result of a class-action lawsuit that pushed back against the jail’s practice of compensating for a lack of sunlight with Vitamin D supplements.
The backdrop for this lawsuit is a grim one. For over two years, spanning from March 2020 to August 2022, many inmates faced 23-hour lockdowns. Delayed cases further compounded their time in confinement.
The lawsuit, initiated in 2019, contended that inadequate sunlight exposure was not only a breach of the Constitution’s Eighth and 14th Amendments but was also detrimental to inmates’ health, potentially contributing to ailments like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and depression.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim’s ruling added clarity to the situation, asserting that sunlight could be excluded only in emergencies or during unfavorable weather. She referenced experts who highlighted the adverse health impacts of sunlight deprivation, ranging from disrupted sleep patterns to increased cancer risks.
Yolanda Huang, the attorney representing the inmates, was determined to guarantee inmates their rightful time under the sun. The 2019 lawsuit did pave the way for improved jail conditions, but the pandemic hindered its full realization. Huang emphasized that the fight was not about comfort but the core principle of constitutional rights.
Responding to the decision, spokesperson Tara Moriarty, representing the Sheriff’s Department and the City Attorney’s Office, expressed contentment with the verdict while also signaling a thorough review of the judgment to determine any future actions.