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Judge Certifies Class Action Lawsuit Against IDOC

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois certified all 28,000+ state prisoners to be part of a class Monday in a class action lawsuit challenging IDOC's excessive use of solitary confinement.

Plaintiffs, represented by the Uptown People's Law Center and pro bono attorneys with Winston and Strawn, allege that conditions in solitary are horrific; that IDOC permits the use of solitary confinement for minor infractions; and that IDOC uses lengthy, disproportionate stays, all of which constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs also allege that prisoners are given no meaningful opportunity to present a defense, and sometimes are not even told why they are being sent to solitary, thereby violating the 14th Amendment by not complying with the minimum requirements of due process.

In Monday's opinion, the court not only held that plaintiffs had sufficient evidence to support their allegations, but also held that the six named plaintiffs could litigate the claims on behalf of all Illinois prisoners, since every prisoner is subject to being sent to solitary at any time, often for very minor violations. Plaintiffs do not seek damages; rather, they seek a court order to fix the system.

"Illinois' prison system locks up too many people, for too long, in horrific conditions," says Alan Mills, a UPLC attorney. "And as solitary confinement is prison within prison, it, too, is overused. The U.N. states that over 15 days of solitary is torture, yet sometimes people in Illinois spend decades there. And everyone who spends more than a couple of weeks ends up traumatized. We welcome the chance to finally expose these horrors in federal court."

Magistrate Judge Beatty stated in the ruling that prisoners "routinely are not offered the full amount of yard time required by IDOC policy. Even when they are, they often refuse to go because the yards are unstimulating, unsanitary, and/or unsafe. Cells are extremely small but nevertheless frequently occupied by two [prisoners]. Guards regularly use force against prisoners, chemical spray on prisoners, and use racial epithets and slurs when speaking.

"While variations undoubtedly exist between facilities as to other conditions, such as cleanliness, cell fixtures, and rodent and insect control, these dissimilarities do not bear on or somehow negate the broader, baseline conditions the facilities all have in common."

Beatty concluded that he found the conditions described by plaintiffs and their experts "disturbing, and quite frankly distressing."

The UPCL is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners' rights, Social Security disability, and tenants' rights and eviction defense. The UPLC currently has six active class action lawsuits regarding jail and prison conditions.

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Previously:

* May 2017: Federal Court Certifies Lawsuit Charging Unconstitutional Illinois Prison Healthcare.

* May 2018: Mentally Ill Prisoners Win Injunction; Judge Declares IDOC's Failure To Provide Mental Health Care An "Emergency Situation."

* October 2018: Judge: "Deliberate Indifference" Of IDOC Mental Health Care Requires Federal Oversight.

* December 2018: Federal Judge To IDOC: Get Your Unconstitutional Shit Together.

* January 2019: Overhauling Illinois' Unconstitutional Prisons.

* March 2021: Illinois Prisoners' Health Care Still Unconstitutional.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on June 15, 2021


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