Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Demands made by prisoners: Are they stupid or valid? (Part 1) 


There are times when prisoners in jails and prisons make really stupid demands and there are times when their demands are valid. I speak as an authority on this issue having served as a senior supervisor in a correctional facility in the 1950s, as an inmate in another correctional facility in the 1960s and later as a group counsellor in a third correctional facility in this century.                                                            

In this article, I will give you examples of a prisoner’s demands and let you decide for yourselves as to whether or not his demands were stupid or valid.

Michael Hughes

The Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility is an Illinois state facility for the diagnosis, treatment, and (pending successful treatment) incarceration of persons believed prone to sexual violence. Usually these are persons who have served prison sentences for sex crimes and are considered too dangerous to be allowed to go free after they complete their sentences so they are incarcerated in  the Rushville facility.

Michael Hughes is confined at Rushville because he was found to be a sexually violent person within the meaning of the state's Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. He will remain there unless and until he is found to be no longer substantially probable that he will engage in acts of sexual violence.

His complaint was brought under section 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and grew out of several written grievances that Hughes submitted at Rushville complaining of the dental care that he was receiving there. He alleged that a program director named Scott, a grievance examiner named Simpson, and a security therapy aide named Hougas—the defendants in this matter—infringed his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by disregarding his grievances and insulting him into the bargain. His complaint was heard by the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. I will describe for you the two Amendments

Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment 14

… state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States or deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Hughes alleged that after he filed the grievances Simpson summoned him to a meeting with herself and Hougas and at the meeting, Hougas yelled at him and told him that he was “ignorant” and “stupid” and a “moron” and that his life at Rushville would go better if he stopped complaining (a statement that could well be thought of as a threat). His grievances were never answered, and whenever Hougas crossed paths with Hughes, she called him “ignorant.”

Grievances addressed to a government agency are, if intelligible, non-frivolous, and non-malicious, petitions for the redress of grievances within the meaning of the First Amendment and are therefore prima facie protected by the Amendment. The court hearing his complaint had no reason to doubt that Hughes' grievances fall within the protected scope; though repetitious, their repetition reflected the institution's failure to respond to any of them. The court was mindful that for retaliation for filing petitions to be actionable, the means of retaliation must be sufficiently clear and emphatic to deter a person of “ordinary firmness” from submitting such petitions in the future. Simple verbal harassment” of a prisoner does not suffice, and that even threats may not suffice.

The court said that the abuse to which Hughes was subjected by the defendants and the warning that his life would be better if he stopped filing grievances were valid reasns to complain.

The district judge (who heard Hughes’ complaint first) emphasized that defendants’ actions had not deterred Hughes from filing a lawsuit complaining about the inadequacy of the dental care that he was receiving or from bringing the present lawsuit, which complains not about inadequate dental care but about the defendants' treatment of him, which has been abusive, and of his grievances, which they have ignored.

The Appeals court said that he district judge ignored features of this case that supported Hughes' claims. Remember that he's not a prison inmate but a civil detainee, and the Supreme Court held that “persons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish.”

For another thing, it was not obvious that Hughes is a person who is free as he is being held against his will in a detention facility for an undetermined length of time—indeed for years already because of a psychosexual disorder. He must be suffering from some mental disorder; since that's a requirement for commitment to Rushville. His particular disorder may well be what is called paraphilia. In lay terminology, he's a sexual deviant, confined in a facility that is supposed to treat his condition, as well as protect the public from him until he is sufficiently improved that he can be safely released.

Just as police when interrogating children are held to understand the mental and psychological differences between adults and children, so it follows that staff of an institution that houses and treats persons suffering from mental disorders should understand that they are dealing with psychologically impaired persons. The defendants should have known better than to shout at a possibly quite vulnerable person, call him “ignorant,” “stupid,” and a “moron,” ignore grievances filed by him that may be both meritorious and quite serious (neglect of dental care of course can be dangerous), and threaten him with retaliation for his audacity in complaining—all with no suggestion that the complaint lacks merit. Their conduct toward him could well be thought a significant step beyond “simple verbal harassment.”

A further wrinkle in this matter is that the Illinois Department of Human Services has established elaborate procedures for inmates of Rushville to complain of the treatment they receive. Hughes tried to invoke those procedures, without success.

But perhaps the most remarkable feature of this case is the defendants' insistence in defiance of the Illinois Administrative Code that Hughes has no need to invoke grievance procedures because he can always sue, as he has done. What makes this contention remarkable is the fact that the interests of Rushville, of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and of the taxpayers of this almost bankrupt state, obviously are best served if grievances are handled at the facility level rather than by the court system, which is far more costly.

This raises an interesting question. Does Rushville have an unlimited budget, so that it can pay lawyers to defend against lawsuits brought only because the institution refuses to obey the Administrative Code and respond to Hughes' grievances, preferring instead to ridicule him and drive him to sue Rushville staff?

The appeals court said in frustration;

“We don't get it. But we have said enough to require that the judgment of dismissal be vacated and the case returned to the district court to try to make sense of the conduct of the defendants and their institution, and to determine whether they are in fact improperly impeding the plaintiff's constitutional right to petition government for redress of grievances.” unquote

I am sure that Hughes was treated better in Rushville and the defendants were warned against future abuses of Rushville’s inmates, especially Hughes.

I have many other similar articles for you for a later date. 

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