State sued over prison conditions

From: Illinois Times, June 28 2012
By Bruce Rushton

Conditions at Vienna Correctional Center are something out of a Dickens novel, judging by a stomach-churning lawsuit filed earlier this month by inmates who say they live with filth, vermin and a paucity of bathrooms.

A lawyer for inmates says that prisoners at Vienna and Vandalia Correctional Center, which could be the next legal target, are living in poorer conditions than inmates in California, which has been ordered to reduce overcrowding by a federal judge.

“We are worse than California,” says Alan Mills, legal director for the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, which sued the state in federal court on June 13. “California is putting people in gymnasiums. But, to my knowledge, they are not putting people into basements or storage rooms.”

In addition to suing the state over conditions at Vienna Correctional Center, the Uptown People’s Law Center is considering a lawsuit over conditions at Vandalia Correctional Center, where minimum security inmates are held, Mills said. If the state doesn’t settle, lawsuits could take years to resolve, he said.

It is, Mills said, a matter of math. The inmate population has increased by 10 percent during the past two years while the state prison budget has decreased by 15 percent, he said. There is some hope in recently passed legislation that reinstitutes an early-release program for inmates who behave themselves, Mills said.

The legislature also appropriated $26 million to keep the Tamms supermax prison open. Gov. Pat Quinn says that he will close it nonetheless, and if the money is spent to expand a minimum security work camp next to the supermax, intolerable conditions might improve, Mills said.

Stacey Solano, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said the department doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits, but health, safety and security of inmates and staff is the department’s top priority. She confirmed that Tamms will be closed, but declined to say how the department might spend money appropriated to keep the supermax open.
In the meantime, inmates are living in squalor, according to the class-action lawsuit filed on June 13 in federal court.

Nearly 1,900 prisoners are living in Vienna Correctional Center, which was built to hold 925 inmates, according to the lawsuit. While state law requires each inmate to have at least 50 square feet in cells or dormitories, inmates at Vienna have 33 square feet or less, the plaintiffs say. Inmates get three hours or less of exercise time each week, and much of their time is spent on bunks crammed 18 inches apart, so close that a prisoner can reach out and touch the person sleeping next to them.

Rather than fix broken windows, the state has boarded them up, depriving inmates of natural light and fresh air. Mice, rats, millipedes, cockroaches and other vermin run free, and food contains rodent feces and mold, according to the plaintiffs.

“Prisoners find cockroaches in their coffee cups, drinking glasses and toothbrushes and feel cockroaches crawl across them while they lie in their bunks,” the plaintiffs say. “The men often have to physically sweep cockroaches off of their mattresses and remove cockroach feces from their pillows and clothing.”

A converted administration building that is home to 600 inmates has seven toilets, two urinals, seven sinks and seven showers.

“To make matters worse, some of these toilets and sinks often do not function or drain properly due to leaking or clogged pipes,” the plaintiffs say. “Rust-colored water comes out of these few sinks, which the prisoners use to brush their teeth, wash their faces and ‘clean’ their dishes. Broken toilets are left filled with feces, sometimes for weeks.”

Mold is rampant.

“It grows along the walls and ceilings, in the light fixtures, around the sinks and drinking fountains, in the showers and behind the toilets,” the plaintiffs say. “The mold on the ceiling and in the showers sometimes grows so thick that it breaks off and falls on the prisoners while they are sleeping in their bunks or showering.”

Just five guards watch over the 600 inmates who live in the converted administration building.

“Because there are so many prisoners and so few officers, the officers are frequently unaware of the fights that occur in the dormitories and when the officers are aware, they often let the inmates fight it out, intervening only after the fight is finished in order to issue disciplinary citations,” plaintiffs say.

The conditions described in the lawsuit are confirmed in a report by the John Howard Association, a Chicago-based prison reform group that visited the prison last fall. The visitors smelled sewage and found inmates dodging rust-colored water that dripped from bathroom ceilings. Prisoners said they were given just five minutes to eat meals. Hundreds of inmates with nothing to do simply paced or huddled around a small television.

“A Vienna staff member seemed to recognize the stunned look on our faces,” the report’s author wrote. “‘This is a nightmare,’ he said quietly to one of JHA’s staff. ‘This should not be.’”

Contact Bruce Rushton at

Read the Monitoring Visit by John Howard Association of Illinois below:

Read the Vienna Complaint Court Document below:

Lawsuit challenges solitary confinement at California prison

From: SF Bay View:

June 2, 2012

Prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay is cruel and unusual punishment, torture, lawyers say

Oakland – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform inhumane conditions in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHUs), a movement dramatized by a 2011 hunger strike by thousands of SHU prisoners; the named plaintiffs include hunger strikers, among them several of the principal negotiators for the hunger strike.

California Corrections Department spokesperson Jeffrey Callison justifies his assertion that “we do not have solitary confinement in California prisons” by saying that prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU are allowed out of their cells briefly for exercise. But they are as isolated in the exercise “yard” – a small concrete enclosure often referred to as a dog run – as in their cells. – Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP

The class action suit, which is being jointly filed by CCR and several advocate and legal organizations in California, alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eight Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.

“The prolonged conditions of brutal confinement and isolation such as those at Pelican Bay have rightly been condemned as torture by the international community,” said CCR President Jules Lobel. “These conditions strip prisoners of their basic humanity and cross the line between human treatment and barbarity.” Advocates hope that the suit will strike a blow against the increasingly routine use of solitary confinement in American prisons.
SHU prisoners spend 22½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming. Food is often rotten and barely edible, and medical care is frequently withheld.
More than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years, more than 200 of them for over 15 years and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years. Today’s suit claims that prolonged confinement under these conditions has caused “harmful and predictable psychological deterioration” among SHU prisoners. Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage to human beings and is analyzed under international law as torture.
Additionally, the suit alleges that SHU prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement, rendering their isolation “effectively permanent.” SHU assignment is an administrative act, condemning prisoners to a prison within a prison; it is not part of a person’s court-ordered sentence for his or her crime.
California, alone among all 50 states and most other jurisdictions in the world, imposes extremely prolonged solitary confinement based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang. Gang affiliation is assessed without considering whether a prisoner has ever undertaken an act on behalf of a gang or whether he is – or ever was – actually involved in gang activity.

California, alone among all 50 states and most other jurisdictions in the world, imposes extremely prolonged solitary confinement based merely on a prisoner’s alleged association with a prison gang.

Moreover, SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latinos. The percentage of Latino prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU was 85 percent in 2011, far higher than their representation in the general prison population, which was 41 percent. The only way out of SHU isolation alive and sane is to “debrief,” to inform on other prisoners, placing those who do so and their families in significant danger of retaliation and providing those who are unable to debrief effectively no way out of SHU isolation.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on the case.
The case is Ruiz v. Brown, and it seeks to amend an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell. The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Click here to read the complaint.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit and follow @theCCR.

Pelican Bay prisoners sue to end ‘torture’ of long-term solitary confinement

by John Rudolf


Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the agency was still reviewing the lawsuit and could not comment on how it would respond legally.
Callison rejected the claim that conditions at Pelican Bay amounted to torture, however.
“There is no torture in California prisons,” he said. “That is not how we conduct business.”
Callison also disputed the lawsuit’s characterization of conditions in the security housing unit as solitary confinement, noting that the prisoners there are allowed each day to briefly leave their cells. “We do not have solitary confinement in California prisons,” he said.
Yet the conditions in the security housing unit clearly meet the United Nation’s definition of solitary confinement, according to an October 2011 report by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez. In the report, Mendez defined solitary confinement as “any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others (except guards) for at least 22 hours a day.”

The conditions in the security housing unit clearly meet the United Nation’s definition of solitary confinement.

In an October speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Mendez called for a ban on the use of isolation as punishment and for a prohibition on long-term solitary confinement, citing scientific studies linking such conditions to lasting psychological damage.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, supermax, the hole, secure housing unit … whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion technique,” Mendez said. “Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, in excess of 15 days, should also be subject to prohibition.”
“Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture,” he said.
Lobel, the Center for Constitutional Rights president, said he hoped the center’s lawsuit would proceed quickly through the courts. The Supreme Court has held that prisoners have the right to challenge their detention in extreme isolation units. But it has not ruled on whether long-term solitary confinement violates the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
“We are hoping that this case will be pushed expeditiously and we’ll get some ruling within a year,” he said.
This is an excerpt from the story that first appeared under this headline on the Huffington Post. John Rudolf can be reached at

SPLC Lawsuit Targets Abuse, Neglect of Children Held in Jackson, Miss., Detention Center

From: Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Mississippi filed suit in federal court today to protect the rights of children and teens who face inhumane treatment in Mississippi’s largest juvenile detention center.

The suit says Hinds County, which operates Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Jackson, violates the constitutional rights of children by subjecting them to prolonged periods of isolation and sensory deprivation, denying them mental health services, and subjecting them to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm.

The SPLC and DRMS filed the class action lawsuit after numerous attempts to resolve the issues with county officials failed.

“This litigation presents an opportunity for the county to re-direct its resources away from this abusive facility and into community-based alternatives that will better serve our children, protect public safety and reduce taxpayers’ exposure to legal liability,” said Jody Owens, who leads SPLC’s Mississippi office.

Abusive incidents detailed in the lawsuit include:

– A staff member taunted one young man and encouraged him to kill himself so that there would be “one less person officers have to worry about” after the teen began cutting himself with a razor.

– Staffers regularly verbally abuse children, cursing and threatening harm to the children and their family members.

– A staff member threatened to harm a child’s family because the child took too long to return to his cell after his shower.

– Youths are forced to stay in their small cells for 20 to 23 hours every day with very little human contact, exercise or access to education and rehabilitation programs.

– Staffers regularly withhold necessary medication from children with serious mental health problems.

Families can claim damages after detention ruling

Armley Today
Published on Thu Jan 13 18:07:45 GMT 2011

Failed asylum seekers have won the right to claim damages which could run into thousands of pounds after the High Court ruled three young children were held at an immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire unlawfully.

The ruling was a legal victory for the mothers – Reetha Suppiah, 37, a Malaysian nurse, and Sakinat Bello, 25, a Nigerian national – who brought the legal challenge.

Both said a lack of safeguards at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, the UK’s main removal centre for women and minors, led to their children suffering distress and trauma.

Mr Justice Wyn Williams, sitting in London, ruled the Government’s current policy on detaining families with children pending deportation was not unlawful, but – in these cases – it had not been applied by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) “with the rigour it deserves”.

As a result, “the claimants were detained unlawfully from the time they were taken into custody until their release” and they were entitled to claim damages.

Read the rest here.

Inmate’s family sues North Las Vegas over jail death

From: Las Vegas Sun
By Steve Green
Dec. 16, 2010
The city of North Las Vegas along with police and jail officials were sued Wednesday over the 2009 killing of a jail inmate whom attorneys say was at risk of assault by other prisoners because he was suspected of a sex crime involving children.

Sergio Morales, father of Sergio Hugo Morales-Paredes and administrator of his estate, filed suit in U.S. District Court for Nevada over the death of his son, allegedly at the hands of another prisoner.

The suit charges wrongful death, negligence and that the civil rights of Morales-Paredes were violated when Morales-Paredes was placed in a cell in the North Las Vegas Detention center with his alleged killer, Armando Munoz-Ornelas, 25 at the time of the incident and whom the lawsuit described as a “violent detainee.”

Attorneys for the father and estate of Morales-Paredes, 31 at the time of his death, said in the lawsuit Morales-Paredes was a pre-trial detainee incarcerated as a misdemeanor offender and that he was the victim of an “execution/murder” at the jail.

Read the rest here.

Va. Muslim inmate case settled

Washington Post, 11/24/2010
By the Associated Press

Virginia has settled a lawsuit filed by a Muslim inmate who claimed the prisons system violated his rights by refusing him an Islamic newspaper and religious programs.

Red Onion State Prison inmate Kelvin Brown, 37, sued the warden and other prison officials after numerous issues of the weekly Islamic newspaper The Final Call were banned beginning in 2009.

The Department of Corrections bans material it says promotes violence or is detrimental to safety. Brown, who is serving a life sentence for robbery and other charges, was not told why the issues were banned.

In the settlement, the state agreed to allow inmates to receive the previously banned issues and to offer an explanation if other issues are banned in the future. It also agreed to allow Islamic television programming and written materials to be distributed.

It’s the third recent case in which the state has settled a lawsuit or been told by a judge to revise its literature policies.

In September, the state settled a case involving a ban on issues of Prison Legal News, a magazine that reports on prisoner rights and criminal justice issues. That same month, a federal judge declared a policy unconstitutional that denied inmates access to classic literature with sexually explicit passages but allows them to receive Playboy magazine.

“The Virginia Department of Corrections has been out of control when it comes to censoring literature coming into the prisons,” said Jeff Fogel, the attorney in both The Final Call and Prison Legal News lawsuits.

Fogel said despite the recent success in challenging the policy, the problem persists.

“This problem will not be solved until the Department of Corrections fully realizes that it has no right to impose political or religious orthodoxy,” he said.

Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said the agency does not comment on litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Brown had been a member of the Nation of Islam since 1993 and had subscribed to the newspaper since then as he served time at various state prisons.

At Red Onion, inmates are held in their cells 23 hours a day with limited contact to other prisoners. There are no religious services or programs devoted to the Muslim faith.

Between January and May 2009, 22 issues of The Final Call were banned, and virtually every issue since then has been prohibited.

Brown argued that because he was never told why the issues were banned, he could not appeal the decision of the Publication Review Committee.

Read the rest here.

Nev. Board OKs $450K Settlement in Inmate Death

Nevada board OKs $450K settlement in lawsuit over ex-Coasters manager’s death in prison