Dangerous Threat of Heat-Related Illness Prompts Appeals Court to Affirm Order to Cool Supermax Prison

July 2, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that prison officials must cool prisoners’ cells at a super-maximum facility where the heat index is known to have reached 125 degrees.

“Doctors have found the extreme heat at Wisconsin’s Secure Program Facility jeopardizes the lives and safety of the men confined in isolation there,” said David C. Fathi of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Providing mechanical cooling is not a luxury, it is a medical necessity.”

Today’s decision upholds a U.S. District Court order issued in November 2003 by Judge Barbara Crabb in a lawsuit brought by the National Prison Project and the Madison law firm Garvey & Stoddard regarding inhumane conditions at Wisconsin’s super-maximum prison in Boscobel.

“Defendants constructed a facility in which inmates are subjected to temperatures that can pose a serious risk to their well-being, particularly if they are taking medications or have health conditions that prevent their bodies from adjusting to high heat,” wrote Judge Crabb in her ruling. “If air conditioning is the only means of avoiding that risk, that is a function of defendants’ decision to build the facility as they did. Leaving inmates vulnerable to serious health consequences or death is not a reasonable alternative.”

Today’s victory arises out of the lawsuit Jones-El v. Berge, filed in 2000. Prior to an agreement reached in January 2002 on behalf of prisoners housed at Wisconsin’s supermax, prisoners lived in isolation cells where lights burned 24 hours a day and mentally ill prisoners suffered from inadequate mental health care.

The settlement agreement in Jones-El v. Berge is online at /node/35162

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