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$1,500 Settlement for Wisconsin Prisoner’s Cold Cell Conditions Claim

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections paid $1,500 to settle a prisoner’s lawsuit alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights by being subjected to cold cell temperatures.
Waupan Correctional Institution prisoner Jevon D. Jackson filed a civil rights action for being subjected to un-constitutional conditions of confinement. His ordeal began on May 18, 2007, after a psychologist ordered him placed in a strip cell for observation because she thought he was a suicide risk.

While there was no dispute that Jackson told the psychologist he had placed a plastic bag over his head, other parts of their conversation were in dispute. Nonetheless, for his own safety he was stripped naked, given a security smock to wear and a rubber mat to sleep on, and placed under observation from May 18 to May 21.

His cell had running water and Jackson “was occasionally provided with several thin squares of toilet paper, but not enough to avoid having to use his bare hand to wipe himself after having a bowel movement,” the Wisconsin federal dis-trict court noted.

Although the prison’s temperature log reflected the average temperature in Jackson’s observation cell was 73.6 de-grees, he presented evidence to place that fact in dispute. He asserted the temperature probe was three feet inside the exhaust vent, which was 90% covered, and gave an inaccurate reading. Jackson said he shook uncontrollably while in the cell and the temperature felt like it was 10 degrees. Guards made no effort to act on his repeated requests for a blanket. Another prisoner in an adjacent cell, who had clothes and a blanket, submitted an affidavit supporting Jackson’s claims.

To determine whether cold cell temperatures constitute cruel and unusual punishment, courts consider “the severity of the cold; its duration; whether the prisoner has alternative means to protect himself from the cold; the adequacy of such alternatives; as well as whether he must endure other uncomfortable conditions as well as cold.” The cold temperature need not present an imminent threat to the prisoner’s health to implicate the Eighth Amendment.

The district court denied prison officials’ motion for summary judgment on September 9, 2009, and the state settled the case about a week later, on September 17. Jackson litigated the case pro se. See: Jackson v. Thurmer, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Wisc.), Case No. 2:07-cv-00919-JPS.

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Related legal case

Jackson v. Thurmer