Strategic Lockdowns May Leave Prison Liable

     CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois prison administrators must face claims that they staged prolonged “lockdowns” to secure pay raises and vacation time, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Gregory Turley is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, aggravated criminal sexual assault and theft in Menard Correctional Center, a state prison in southern Illinois.
     According to Turley’s complaint, the prison was placed on lockdown for 535 days between January 2008 and October 2010. The 25 separate lockdowns, the longest of which lasted 81 days, comprised over 50 percent of this period.
     During lockdowns, prisoners were allegedly denied exercise time and confined in pairs to small cells. Turley’s prolonged close confinement, during which prison officials “showed deliberate indifference to inmates’ physical and psychological injuries,” caused irritable bowel syndrome, tinnitus, sleep deprivation, colon spasms, weight loss and extreme stress.
     Moreover, the lockdowns allegedly “arose out of a conspiracy among prison officials … [to] negotiate a pay raise[,] … allow staff to take vacation and/or to psychologically punish all prisoners for the misconduct of a few,” according to the appellate court’s summary of the complaint.
     Turley filed several grievances with Menard Correctional Center before filing suit in federal court. U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan dismissed the lawsuit at screening but the 7th Circuit reversed last week.
     Reagan “erroneously noted that Turley did not state ‘how long the lockdown lasted, making it impossible for the court to determine … whether there had been an eight amendment violation,'” Judge Richard Cudahy wrote for a three-judge panel.
     Because Turley filed two grievances challenging “not just specific incidents of lockdown, but Menard’s lockdown policies in general,” he exhausted all administrative remedies. The complaint was also timely, since the two-year statute of limitations began to run from the last date of lockdown in 2010.
     Prolonged confinement without exercise and unnecessary lockdowns could both support an Eighth Amendment claim, according to the ruling.
     Turley “alleges that he could not ‘improvise’ with in-cell exercise, because the unencumbered floor space in his tiny cell measured only 7’8″ by 1’7″, which is not even enough space to lie down, much less exercise,” Cudahy wrote. “Turley filed numerous grievances involving the issue, directed at a similar group of defendants. Similar allegations were sufficient to show deliberate indifference in other cases.”
     The federal appeals court affirmed dismissal of Turley’s due process claims, however, which involved the alleged withholding by prison officials of his $10 monthly idle pay stipend during lockdown period. Turley has not been denied process here because the Illinois Court of Claims can still review the deprivation, Cudahy wrote.
     In addition to lockdown-related claims, Turley has filed six other lawsuits, alleging retaliation, denial of medical treatment, failure to protect, assault and constitutional violations.

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