Today, the Uptown People’s Law Center filed a case in federal court alleging that Vienna Correctional Center was so overcrowded that it violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The complaint alleges that hundreds of men are housed in areas of the prison which were never designed for human habitation–including “Building 19.” Men are stuffed into Building 19 in bunk beds, packed so closely that a prisoner can reach out and hit the next bunk while lying in bed. Such close quarters eliminate not only privacy, but security. Guards do not patrol these areas, and fights regularly break out.
Hundreds of men on the second floor are forced to share three working toilets, and must walk up to the third floor (which houses several hundred other men in similar conditions) to share four functioning showers. Pipes leak, the roof leaks, and mold is rampant throughout Building 19.
Rodents infest not only Building 19, but also the kitchen where prisoners’ food is prepared. Bird and rodent droppings regularly contaminate the food.
For many months, continuing well into December last winter, the Department did not fix the dozens of broken windows in Building 19. Birds flew into the living areas regularly, depositing droppings on beds, the floor, etc. As Fall progressed, Building 19 turned frigid. The Department’s “solution” was to board up the windows with plywood. Now there is no light, and no ventilation at all.
According to the Department of Corrections’ website, Vienna is a minimum security prison. This means that the vast majority of prisoners at Vienna were not convicted of a violent crime. Rather, they typically are serving sentences for DUI’s, or simple drug possession.
Belinda Belcher, the Law Center’s Executive Director, stated:
That Vienna has come to this sorry state is a tragedy. Vienna has historically been Illinois’ model, show case prison. It had model educational and vocational programs, including a nationally recognized program where trained prisoners provided emergency ambulance service to the community. Vienna has gone from being Illinois’ model prison to one of its worst. No one should be forced to live in these conditions.
Unfortunately, Vienna is only one example of the sorry state of prisons in Illinois. As a result of the Governor’s cancellation of all meritorious good time credits in January, 2010, Illinois prison population increased by 10%. At the same time, the budget was decreased by over 10%. The great irony is that the Legislature just insisted that the Department spend $26 million to keep Tamms open–which the Department admitted it no longer needs–while at the same time it can’t afford to fix the windows at Vienna. These skewed budget priorities destroy men’s lives. Vienna is only one example–one of the worst, but only one.
Joining the Uptown People’s Law Center in filing the suit are pro bono attorneys from Latham & Watkins.
Uptown People’s Law Center
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