Friday, November 16, 2007

Cruel and unusual punishment, eh?

This post, courtesy The Stiletto, combines two of my favorite subjects: correctional institutions (OK, so that's not on my top ten) and bacteria!! The URL is

For those of you who don't want to bother with that huge string up there, here's the full text:

Jails Not Hotels, Judges Say by Joe Carlson, Nov. 12

Although the Constitution does not require prisons to have the comforts of a hotel, inmates who contract preventable infectious diseases could claim they were subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.

That's the early lesson emerging from several judges' opinions in the 25 lawsuits that prisoners in Lake and Porter county jails have filed in U.S. District Court since Aug. 23.

All of the prisoner-rights lawsuits are handwritten, and complain of the same conditions, often in word-for-word identical language. The inmates say they are exposed to staph infections, forced to use dirty showers and clothes, and viewed by female corrections officers on security cameras.

And in the cases where judges have made rulings already, nearly all of the complaints have been dismissed.

"The Constitution doesn't mandate comfortable prisons or jails," wrote U.S. District Court Chief Judge Robert Miller Jr. on Nov. 2 in a complaint brought by Porter County inmate Corey Taylor.

Taylor complained that the jail's showers and lavatories were "filthy and nasty." The conditions contributed to what he called a widespread pattern of bacterial staph infections among inmates at the jail.

Miller ruled that Taylor's complaints did not meet the high bar for substandard care outlined in a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said inmates can sue only if they are denied "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities."

Taylor, who faces eight counts of violent crime and drug distribution, was not actually harmed by the exposure to dirty conditions because he did not contract staph, Miller wrote.

Not so with Jackie Hernandez, who was the first of the 25 inmates to sue after he was incarcerated at Porter County Jail on a heroin distribution charge.

Hernandez did contract staph, after his cellmate had it, and neither man was properly treated, he said.

U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann ruled Oct. 16 that Hernandez's case could go forward without immediate dismissal because contracting the disease could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.

In all, only four of the 25 suing inmates claim to have gotten the disease -- two each in Porter and Lake county jails.

Porter County Sheriff David Lain has defended the conditions at his jail, and said his medical officials take steps to quarantine and treat sufferers. Lake County officials imposed a prisonwide quarantine last year when an outbreak was discovered.

With the exception of one inmate who claimed to have been made to sleep on the ground, every other allegation in the lengthy complaints has been dismissed, including the issue of naked males being viewed by female guards.

"Female guards ... see male prisoners in states of undress. Frequently. Deliberately. Otherwise they are not doing their jobs," the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995.


Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, are common bacteria found in armpits, groins, genitals and noses that normally do not cause illness, unless they enter the body through a break in the skin. They can cause small infections like pimples and boils and create serious bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections. The bacteria are spread through direct skin contact or indirect contact through towels, soap, bandages and athletic equipment.

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