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Lucasville Uprising: $4.1 Million Settlement

In January, 1997, a settlement was filed in federal court in the three-year-old class action based on injuries stemming from the 1993 Easter Day uprising and 11-day siege at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) at Lucasville, OH. The settlement establishes a $4.1 million fund to pay prisoner damage claims, fees and expenses.

Attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, counsel for the prisoner plaintiffs, said it is the largest settlement fund ever established in a prison riot. The uprising was also the most aggressively prosecuted prison rebellion in U.S. history; the state obtained 48 criminal convictions against prisoners charged with leading or participating in the uprising. Nine prisoners and one guard were killed in the 11-day siege.

The plaintiff class consists of "all inmates, living or deceased, who meet all of the following criteria: (1) the inmate has been incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) on or since April 11, 1993; (2) the inmate has been classified as a general population inmate during some or all of that time period.'' Those convicted of a felony committed during the April 11-22, 1993 rebellion are excluded from the class. Attorney fees and expenses, which Gerhardstein said will not exceed $1.7 million, will be paid from the $4.1 million settlement fund. Claims will for the most part be limited to the families of the nine prisoners who were killed in the uprising, the 50-100 prisoners who were physically injured, and the 670 prisoners who lost property during or as a consequence of the rebellion. A claims administrator will be appointed by the court to review each case.

The family of slain guard Robert Vallandingham, in a separate court action, obtained an $850,000 settlement from the state. The state has also spent an additional $34 million in riot-related expenses.

Prior to the uprising, the prison was severely overcrowded, with forced double-celling of prisoners of different races; and the prison was conducting mandatory blood tests that some prisoners asserted involved an abridgment of their religious rights. Tensions at the prison were taut, and it is widely believed by SOCF prisoners that those tensions were purposefully orchestrated by the warden to instigate the uprising.

An editorial in the January 30, 1997 edition of the Columbus Dispatch was critical of the settlement. "Prisons always have been and always will be imperfectly run.... It is a shame that taxpayers are being stuck with this settlement."

Deputy attorney general Mark Weaver, however, said the state was pleased with the outcome because it will avert costly trials. "Prisoners have civil rights and they have the right to be free from harm," Weaver told reporters. "This settlement allows the state to settle the last chapter of the Lucasville riot."

Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Court Documents.

In addition to the monetary terms, the settlement includes an agreement on eleven separate issues that serve to "maintain or improve the quality of inmate life." Those include:

1. single celling of maximum security prisoners;
2. modifying the prison's classification system;
3. transferring lower security prisoners out of SOCF;
4. upgrading programming at SOCF if the prison starts serving lower security prisoners;
5. addressing parole problems for prisoners who were victims of the riot;
6. piloting a program for hearing alleged rule violations;
7. provide mental health assessments and treatment for class members with possible emotional/mental health needs, including post traumatic stress disorder;
8. seek ways to improve racial and cultural relations within the Ohio prisons;
9. securing at least 40 hours of out-of-cell time per week for SOCF prisoners
10. instituting new state-wide directives on prisoners religious practices; and
11. study the institutional adjustment of prisoners serving long sentences.

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