Prisoners at Colorado’s high-security prison sue for outdoor exercise

Reblogged from: The Denver Post, written by Kirk Mitchell
POSTED: 12/17/2013 04:46:53 PM MST

Three inmates at Colorado State Penitentiary have sued the state Department of Corrections in federal district court, claiming that a tiny, indoor exercise room violates their constitutional rights.

The class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of Ryan Decoteau, Anthony Gomez and Dominic Duran by student lawyers at the University of Denver.

DOC spokesman Roger Hudson said he has not had a chance to review the lawsuit and could not comment.

The lawsuit says more than 500 inmates in solitary confinement at the Cañon City prison have been denied their Eighth Amendment rights, which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment.

“Except when immediately adjacent to the small open grate, inmates cannot feel the wind; they cannot feel the sun on their face; they cannot feel the rain or the snow,” the suit says. “This claustrophobic room contains only a pull-up bar, and there is no opportunity for inmates to run, except in a small circle.”

The lawsuit says inmates must spend 23 hours a day in cells that measure approximately 80 square feet and are allowed to exercise in a cell that is only 90 square feet.

Except for medical and legal visits, inmates in “administrative segregation” are allowed to leave their cells only when they are taken to the shower or into another cell called a recreation room, the suit says.

The DOC moved death-row inmates from the Cañon City prison to Sterling Correctional Facility in 2011 to settle a federal lawsuit originally filed by Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap, in which he complained about the exercise rooms.

Former DOC executive director Tom Clements commissioned a study by outside experts in October 2011 that concluded the “denial of outdoor exercise at CSP violated correctional standards and that this practice is extreme and unlike the operation of any other facility in the United States,” the lawsuit says.

Decoteau, 30, Gomez, 28, and Duran, 29, have each experienced mental and physical problems based on incarceration at CSP of as much as 46 months, the lawsuit says.

Kirk Mitchell: twitter.com/kmitchelldp

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24743836/prisoners-at-colorados-high-security-prison-sue-outdoor#ixzz2nolm0Pgn 

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Death row inmates sue Angola Prison over ‘extreme’ temperatures

From: The Times-Picayune,
By: Lauren McGaughy, June 11, 2013

Three inmates on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary have filed suit in Baton Rouge federal court against jail officials for what they call “appalling and extreme conditions … as a result of extreme heat” in the facilities. The lawsuit requests that corrections officials work with the warden and jail staff to mitigate “extreme and unsafe” temperatures and humidity in the Death Row facility at the penitentiary, which is more commonly known as Angola Prison.

The lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of the inmates by the Promise of Justice Initiative, says the conditions prisoners suffer each summer violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eight Amendment.

The defendants are Department of Public Safety and Corrections and specifically its Secretary James LeBlanc, Angola Prison Warden Burl Cain and Death Row Warden Angela Norwood. The plaintiffs are Death Row inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee.

According to the lawsuit documents, the heat index — or how hot “it feels” — on Death Row reached 195 degrees Fahrenheit on more than one occasion in the summer of 2011. Last summer, the index was above 126 degrees on 85 days between May and August, the suit said.

The Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization offering free legal advice, obtained the heat index information through a public records request after being alerted to the temperature concerns by inmates about two years ago. Additional information was added by inmate and visitor anecdotes.

The lawsuit states Angola’s new Death Row facility was constructed in 2008 and outfitted with duct work throughout to provide climate control. However, while visitation rooms, guard towers and offices are air-conditioned, the “tiers” occupied by inmates are only outfitted with fans that “merely blow hot air into Plaintiffs’ cells,” the suit said.

“During the summer, the bars of the cells are hot to the touch and the cinder block walls release additional heat,” according to the suit. Inmates choose to sleep on the concrete “because the floor is slightly cooler than their beds.”

Additionally, clean drinking water is “contaminated with debris” and water from the showers “is scalding hot,” sometimes exceeding 115 degrees during the summer months, the suit said.

All three inmates suffer from hypertension. Ball, 60, is a diabetic; Code, 57 has hepatitis; and Magee, 35, is treated medically for depression. Because of these ailments, all three are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit said.

Read the rest here.

ACLU of Utah files federal lawsuit over use of tear gas in prison’s mental health unit

From: Salt Lake Tribune, June 3rd 2013:

ACLU of Utah says gas used in mental-health unit to subdue prisoner spread to enclosed cells.

By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune, Jun 03 2013

The ACLU of Utah filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging constitutional rights of inmates housed in the mental-health unit at the Utah State Prison were violated when tear gas used to subdue one inmate spread into other enclosed cells.

Correctional officers fired tear gas on Aug. 3, 2011, after one inmate refused to return to his cell from a courtyard, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Utah. The gas was pumped through air vents into the fully enclosed cells of other inmates, causing burning eyes, lungs and skin. Many inmates thought the wing was on fire.

Read the rest here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56406088-78/inmates-complaint-gas-prison.html.csp

Judge Rules That Retaliation Lawsuit Against Department of Corrections Can Proceed

A press release by the ACLU
March 1, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

A federal judge yesterday refused to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit brought on behalf of an ACI inmate who was retaliated against by guards after he publicly criticized Department of Corrections’ mail policies and sought legal assistance from the ACLU. The pattern of harassment against inmate Jason Cook, which included strip searches, loss of his prison job, destruction of his personal property, and disciplinary time in segregation, began after Cook was quoted in a Providence Journal story criticizing a DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. The policy was later rescinded.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that corrections officials’ actions “in retaliating against Cook for publicly criticizing policy changes” at the DOC violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech “and displayed both deliberate indifference and a reckless disregard of Cook’s constitutional rights.” The suit further claims that the various disciplinary actions taken against him violated Cook’s due process rights.

In court, the Department of Corrections made the troubling argument that Cook had no First Amendment right to speak to the Providence Journal about the policy and therefore his suit should be thrown out. Last September, a magistrate judge rejected DOC’s argument, but the agency appealed that ruling. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith agreed that the ACLU’s retaliation claims could proceed, and further ruled that Cook’s due process claims should also not be dismissed.

The mail policy at issue that Cook initially protested, and that was ultimately withdrawn after the ACLU intervened, barred family members from ordering books or magazine subscriptions for inmates. Instead, inmates could only obtain publications directly from a publisher with their own funds. The lawsuit is being handled by ACLU volunteer attorneys from the law firm of DeLuca and Weizenbaum.

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today: “The DOC’s position that inmates could be disciplined simply for bringing prison conditions and policies to the public’s attention was extremely troubling. We are pleased that the court has rejected it, and that Mr. Cook can proceed with his claims.” A summary of the actions taken against Cook after he spoke out:

ALLEGATIONS OF RETALIATION AGAINST JASON COOK BY DOC OFFICIALS

  • In October 2007, a Providence Journal story quoted Cook criticizing a new DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. A week later, he was fired from his kitchen job under the pretext that he was caught on a video camera stealing state property. He was later found not guilty of the charge.
  • In February 2008, the RI ACLU intervened on Cook’s behalf in the dispute over the new inmate mail policy by writing DOC officials in support of his position. Shortly thereafter, correctional officers conducted a destructive search of Cook’s cell that damaged some of his personal property.
  • After complaining to the DOC’s Office of Inspections about that search, Cook was advised that other inmates in his module with similar complaints should contact the Office. Cook posted a notice to that effect on an inmate bulletin board. A few days later, as a result of that posting, he was disciplined for “engaging in or encouraging a group demonstration and/or activities,” strip searched and taken to segregation. Two weeks later, he was finally given a hearing on the charge, but not allowed to present and/or question any witnesses. In the meantime, the mail policy about which he and the ACLU had complained was rescinded by the DOC.
  • Cook was found guilty of the charge and sanctioned with 30 days in segregation and the loss of good time. At the end of the hearing on the charge, the hearing officer turned off the tape recorder of the proceeding and told Cook that “this is what happens when you get the ACLU involved in our business.”
  • In May 2008, Cook was once again strip searched and thrown into segregation on the grounds that a letter he had written to the Parole Board was “threatening.” He was held in segregation for almost three weeks without a hearing before being released.
  • In September 2008, Cook sent a letter to Corrections Director A.T. Wall protesting the lack of a response to grievances he had submitted. Two days later, Cook was again subjected to a strip search and a cell search where his property was destroyed. Officers also looked through Cook’s legal materials and asked him if he had communicated further with any Providence Journal reporters.

SPLC reaches agreement to address prisoner abuse, neglect at Orleans Parish Prison

From: Southern Poverty Law Center
Dec. 11th 2012

The SPLC has reached an agreement with officials in Orleans Parish, La., to address the brutal and inhumane conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison, where prisoners have endured rampant violence, sexual assaults and neglect.

The federal consent decree outlines steps that Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman will take to ensure prisoner safety and adequate staffing of the facility. If approved by the court, an independent monitor will oversee the agreement to ensure compliance. The agreement, the result of an SPLC lawsuit filed in April, also would apply to any new facility that is built to replace the jail.

“We are hopeful the judge will agree that this settlement is in the best interest of all parties involved,” said Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney for the SPLC’s New Orleans office and lead attorney on the case. “We also applaud Sheriff Gusman and his office for taking the important first step of acknowledging the problems within the jail. While implementation will be difficult, we are committed to improving conditions, and will work with him to do so. We also need the city to work with us and provide the funding to truly fix this jail.”

SPLC clients Byron Morgan and Nicholas Miorana, both prisoners in the Orleans Parish Prison, said they were pleased an agreement has been reached. “I am excited the sheriff has agreed to take a hard look, and fix this jail,” Morgan said. “I hope Mayor Mitch Landrieu will help make the changes as well.”

Miorana added, “Today, I understand what right and wrong stand for. With help from the Justice Department and SPLC, our cries will finally be heard.”
The decree includes the following provisions:

  • Review and monitoring of prison operations by a professional corrections administrator.
  • Comprehensive policies governing the use of force and restraints on prisoners.
  • Documenting and tracking complaints of prison staff using excessive force.
  • A staffing plan that provides enough officers to ensure prisoner safety.
  • A ban on placing teenagers in units where they may have contact with an adult prisoner.
  • Guidelines for providing medical and mental health care for prisoners.

The SPLC lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, described a facility where widespread violence and contraband – including knives – are the norm. It also noted that the jail is understaffed and that deputies are not only poorly trained and supervised, but are often complicit in the abuses suffered by the prisoners.

The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case in September, joining the effort to address the conditions. Three years ago, a comprehensive investigation by the department documented many of the same violations contained in the SPLC lawsuit.

Once the agreement is approved by the court, it will go into effect immediately. However, certain provisions cannot be implemented until the city and the sheriff’s office resolve how to provide adequate funding for the jail. If the city and the sheriff cannot resolve the funding dispute, the funding issue will go to trial on April 4, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

“April 4 is a long time for the men, women and children in Orleans Parish Prison to wait,” said Schwartzmann. “With Sheriff Gusman committed to reform, we urge Mayor Landrieu to provide immediate emergency funding to support the necessary changes. Every day we wait, the lives of thousands of New Orleanians remain at risk.”

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 brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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

http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-123-.pdf

Read the Vienna Complaint Court Document below:

http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-124-.pdf

ACLU drops IDOC from prisoner abuse lawsuit

June 3rd, 2010
By Brad Iverson-Long

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho has dropped the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) from a lawsuit against a privately-run prison that’s alleging carnage and suffering among prisoners.  ACLU amended a class action lawsuit, now targeting it only at the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) located south of Boise.

IDOC reached an agreement with the ACLU to be removed from the lawsuit, Riggs v. Valdez.  “It is the goal of the State of Idaho to make its prisons safe,” IDOC Director Brent Reinke said in a news release.  “If the current litigation in Riggs v. Valdez results in a federal court order directed at ICC and CCA to change their policies and procedures, the state of Idaho will aggressively oversee compliance of an order at ICC.”

Monica Hopkins with ACLU of Idaho said going after CCA, and not the corrections department, would save state taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal expenses.  “We felt Corrections Corporation of America was the real culprit,” she told IdahoReporter.com.  “However, when state governments choose to contract out the management of its facilities, they don’t contract out the responsibility to adhere to constitutional standards.  The ACLU expects the department to aggressively enforce the safety of its facilities.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges prisoner-on-prisoner violence and 24 cases of assault at ICC since November 2006.

Hopkins said CCA has two months to respond to the change in the class action lawsuit, and that a preliminary hearing on the case is set for Aug. 4, but could change.  A representative for CCA could not be reached for comment.

The ACLU has more on the lawsuit, including the amended complaint against CCA and ICC, at its website.

Link to article Here