The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 26, 2013

Lawsuit on federal prison conditions won't become class action

The Daily Item

— SCRANTON — The federal lawsuit over conditions at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary has survived a dismissal motion, but it will not be a class-action proceeding.

U.S. Middle District Senior Judge William Nealon earlier this month made those decisions and also denied a defense request for a more definite statement of the allegations made by Sebastian Richardson.

Richardson, who is represented by the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project in Philadelphia, alleges inmates at the maximum-security prison are subjected to unconstitutional and unconscionable conditions.

The basis of Richardson’s complaint is discipline he says he has endured since he arrived at Lewisburg in 2010 because at times he has refused to accept certain cellmates because he feared for his safety.

He alleges after he refused one cellmate who had an assaultive history he was placed in restraints so tight he was in pain. On Feb. 10, 2011, he claims he was put in four-point restraints on a bed and denied bathroom privileges.

After eight hours, he claims he was removed from four-point restraints, was placed in other restraints and remained in them until that Feb 23 when they were removed so he could take a shower.

The lawsuit, filed in 2011, claims medical and custodial staff at Lewisburg routinely ignored inmate complaints of pain and other medical problems caused by restraints.

Richardson alleges he was told the only way he would be let out of restraints was to accept any cellmate chosen for him, whether he was hostile or not.

The Louisiana resident, who has been in jail since 1994 on drug charges, accuses the penitentiary of using restraints in violation of Bureau of Prisons policy to punish inmates who refuse a cellmate because they fear for their safety.

He had requested the suit be made a class action to include all persons either at or will be at Lewisburg in the future but Nealon ruled that was too overbroad.

However, the judge refused to grant immunity to the prison officials who are named defendants because, he wrote, if the allegation Richardson spent 28 consecutive days in restraints is true, it would be a violation of his constitutional rights.

The defendants asked if the complaint was not dismissed, Richardson be made to file a more definite statement of what he is alleging. Nealon found the complaint is not so vague or ambiguous the defendants could not frame a response.

The judge gave the defendants, who include former Warden Bryan A. Bledsole, 15 corrections officers and a BOP administrator at the time, until mid-May to answer the complaint.

Richardson is seeking an injunction to stop the alleged cruel conditions along with unspecified damages.