COVID-19 and prisons: Philadelphia settled in lawsuit for owing prisoners time outside the cell

Philadelphia will pay $125,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that claims that the city’s prisons did comply with the requirement that inmates leave their cells for at least three hours a day.

This Class actionIn April 2020, 10 imprisoned individuals submitted strong opposition to the extreme conditions in Philadelphia prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. It drew on consistent reports from Philadelphia prisoners who said they did not get enough time outside the cell on a regular basis.

In January of this year, a court order stipulated the three-hour requirement, when the second coronavirus surge resulted in a new epidemic among inmates in four Philadelphia prisons.

The lawsuit alleges that prisoners were deprived of time to shower, call, exercise or get adequate relief from the psychological stress of imprisonment. The prisoners also stated that they did not receive soap and hand sanitizer regularly; shared facilities in the prison, such as telephones, were not regularly disinfected; and that appropriate COVID-19 mitigation procedures had never been implemented.

As of this month, Philadelphia has Report There are 1,776 COVID-19 cases among inmates in the city’s prison system, including 305 symptomatic cases and 1,471 asymptomatic cases. The city’s four prisons hold approximately 4,837 prisoners, a number that has dropped by approximately 40% since July 2015.

At the beginning of the pandemic, as asymptomatic transmission became an important issue in prisons and other gathering places, prisoners and correctional staff were worried that COVID-19 would spread uncontrollably.Sometimes, the prison will deal with the epidemic and Implementation of the “Asylum-in-Place” policy That restricted movement.

The plaintiff in the federal lawsuit argued that the limited time outside the cell could lead to the spread of the virus in urban prisons, especially considering the lack of sanitation procedures and supplies by prisoners.

A kind Partial settlement of litigation The agreement reached earlier this month resolved several hygiene issues – such as the provision of free soap, clean towels, the implementation of COVID-19 safety agreements, and the opportunity to shower every day – but the issue of extracellular time was not resolved until Wednesday .

The settlement agreement allows the city to avoid possible contempt of court decisions by the judge handling the case. Before the settlement, a hearing is scheduled to be held on Wednesday.

Several plaintiffs in the case reported that they suffered from asthma, cancer, hepatitis C, vascular disease and other disabilities, which put them at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

The lawsuit argues that the overall conditions of the prison increase the possibility of prisoners contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill. The plaintiff argued that the Philadelphia Department of Prisons violated its Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, its 14th Amendment due process rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city’s settlement will result in an equal payment of $62,500 to the Philadelphia Bail Fund and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund. These two non-profit organizations pay bail money for poor prisoners who would otherwise be locked up in jail for failing to pay.

“We will use these funds immediately to release more people,” said Malik Neal, executive director of the Philadelphia Bail Fund. “But to be clear: we are not the solution to this problem. The solution is for local officials to take the necessary measures to end the human rights violations in our prisons.”

According to the terms of the agreement reached on Wednesday, the city must “make all reasonable efforts to increase the release time beyond the time required by the current court order” by July 12.

The goal of the settlement is to develop a new timetable that will provide 4 1/2 to 5 hours of out-of-cell time for all vaccinated units in the city’s prisons. The goal of other ordinary housing units is to have 3 1/2 hours of time outside the cell each day. Prisoners in the isolation unit have 3 hours a day, and prisoners in the isolation unit have 1 hour a day.

“After living in harsh conditions, including severe lockdown conditions, for more than a year, we hope that this huge sum of money can persuade New York City to provide people with the necessary time to get out of prison for their health and humanity,” Su Mingye said . Plaintiff’s representative and executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.

Failure to meet these benchmarks may result in the city facing further lawsuits in federal court. The city will also be required to submit a report detailing its plan to resume pre-pandemic operations.

The lawyer representing the plaintiff in this case, David Rudovsky, called the bail settlement funds a fair solution.

“It (provides) a measure to alleviate overcrowding conditions, allowing the release of people awaiting trial, usually for minor crimes, who are unable to pay the required bail and initiate a procedure so that the prison system can finally return to the prison safely Before.-Epidemic programming, visits and normal extracellular time.”

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