BUNKER HILL — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a new round of lawsuits on behalf of inmates at Miami Correctional Facility who allege they were subjected to dangerous conditions in the prison's restrictive housing unit.
Since July 2021, an additional 20 inmates came forward with accusations they were subjected to "brutal and dangerous conditions that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment," according to a March 1 statement from the ACLU.
That brings to 26 the number of inmates who say they suffered due to conditions at the prison. The ACLU said it has filed suits against the prison twice in less than 30 days.
The lawsuits name Warden William Hyatte and Deputy Warden George Payne, Jr. as defendants.
“Horrifying stories that continue to emerge from Miami Correctional Facility’s isolation unit shock the conscience and violate the Constitution. In case after case, prison officials subjected these men to brutal conditions no human being should ever experience — knowing full well the pain and trauma they were inflicting, said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth J. Falk.
Plaintiffs allege they were trapped in a small, dark room that would flood with raw sewage and were shocked by live electrical wires when they tried to move.
"We wouldn’t tolerate animals being held in such horrifying conditions, how can we tolerate them for people?" said Falk.
The lawsuits assert that prison officials violated the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights and are liable for compensatory and punitive damages.
Inmate Jack Priscal said he remained in a restrictive housing cell for 30-45 days, where the only window in the cell was completely obstructed by a sheet of metal and the only light in the cell was broken. Electrical wires hung from the ceiling, and the cell frequently flooded with water and raw sewage containing urine and feces, the lawsuitalleges.
The lawsuit also says the cell was often completely dark cold it prevented Priscal from sleeping. Priscal was allowed out only for a shower every five to seven days for about 15 minutes at most each time, the lawsuit alleges.
Another inmate, Jeremy A. Winners, said he suffered injuries in a cell from when he collided with objects in the dark and was shocked by exposed wires. Winners had preexisting mental health issues and the constant darkness of the cell caused him emotional and psychiatric distress, the lawsuitalleges.
Winners was seen repeatedly by mental health staff who said he should not be in the dark because of the negative effects on his mental health. At one point Winners became so distraught that he swallowed razor blades, the lawsuit alleges.
The ACLU had filed lawsuits in July of 2021 on behalf of six inmates alleging similar mistreatment.
All six men were in the restrictive housing unit, where they say they spent all their time in their cells, except when they are released for a shower or solitary recreation.
Each lawsuit alleges cell windows had a piece of sheet metal over them that did not let in light. Others allege they were cut by broken glass inside their cells or shocked by live electrical wires hung from the ceiling.
A full list of the lawsuits is available on the ACLU of Indiana's website.
The Indiana Department of Corrections said it does not comment on active litigation.
WRTV's Michelle Kaufman contributed to this report.
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