State: Cool-prison order goes too far
Associated Press

Sat, Jan. 17, 2004 

A judge's ruling requiring the Department of Corrections to air-condition cells at the state's toughest prison goes beyond the agreement that settled an inmates' lawsuit, attorneys for the state argued Friday.

The state wants U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to put her order on hold while it seeks to have the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturn the decision.

Crabb made her ruling last month after holding a hearing on whether the state is complying with a 2002 court settlement it reached with inmates who sued over living conditions at the prison. The Supermax inmates asked Crabb in October to direct the state to comply with the settlement's terms.

The prison in Boscobel, now renamed the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, was designed to house the state's most hardened criminals.

The settlement required corrections officials to make changes, including keeping cells no hotter than 80 to 84 degrees during heat waves.  The inmates' attorney, Ed Garvey, has argued the state is ignoring a provision in the settlement that says the parties in the case won't challenge any court order implementing the agreement for five years.

But attorneys for the state wrote in papers filed in court Friday that Garvey's interpretation of that provision would mean that the state "agreed never to challenge an order however wild its range."

Garvey rejected those concerns Friday.

"Defendants could not challenge an order to provide individually air-conditioned cells, to provide inmates with stipends, to bar cell searches and discipline, to require wine with dinner, to allow connubial visits, etc.," the state attorneys wrote.

The state also denied the inmates' claims that it appealed the order to avoid political fallout that might result from having to air-condition the prison. Attorneys said safety issues were the reason; security personnel voiced concerns that some inmates in other prisons would consider assaulting staff or other inmates in order to get transferred to a facility with air conditioning.

"There's only way to implement the agreement and so now it seems to me they're reaching way beyond anything that is reasonable," Garvey said.

State officials have estimated it would cost $700,000 to install air conditioning at the prison.