Inmates in at least two cellblocks at the Adult Correctional Institutions’ Anthony Travisano Intake Service Center have been without adequate heat for more than a month and a half, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island asserted in a class-action lawsuit filed Friday.
The Department of Corrections, meanwhile, says it disputes the suit’s allegations.
“Heat is a basic need. It should be secured to everyone,” Sonja Deyoe, one of the ACLU’s cooperating attorneys on the case along with Lynette Labinger, said in a press release.
J.R. Ventura, chief of information and public relations officer for the Department of Corrections, issued the following statement: “The DOC disputes the allegations made by the ACLU. Because the matter is currently in litigation, we are unable to comment further and refer questions to the attorney general’s office who represents us in this case.”
The suit names Department of Corrections Acting Director Patricia Coyne-Fague and Intake Facility Warden Wayne Salisbury as defendants in their official capacities. The lead plaintiff in the case, which was filed in U.S. District Court, is Joshua Davis, who is serving life in prison without parole after pleading guilty in 2008 to the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Woonsocket girl.
U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. on Friday denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requiring that the cells in question be appropriately heated or the affected prisoners be moved.
The suit focuses on two housing units at the ACI’s intake center, known as the M Mod and N Mod, where Davis and at least 19 other inmates are said to be held. Some of the prisoners held in these areas are in protective custody, according to the ACLU’s suit, “due to the nature of their alleged and/or convicted crime(s), enemy status with other prisoners or gangs, or participation as a government witness.” One of those prisoners is a juvenile male, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that the defendants “have been aware for many years that the heating and ventilation system serving M and N Mods had deteriorated and required replacement but have deferred or delayed replacement.”
“Plaintiff and all others similarly situated are guaranteed the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as set forth in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Defendants have denied these rights through failure to provide sufficient heat such that the cells of ‘M and N Mod’ have become dangerously cold,” the suit states. “Defendants’ prolonged denial of adequate heat has negatively impacted the psychological and physical well-being of plaintiff and the represented class. The M and N Mods are dangerously cold and post risk of hypothermia. Prisoners in the M and N Mod report having numb extremities when they are exposed to the air … Defendants have been repeatedly made aware of the prisoners’ suffering, and continue to deny them sufficient heat to be housed safely in the cells or in the M or N Mod.”
In addition to the restraining order and injunction, the lawsuit seeks a finding that the defendants have “engaged in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” and the awarding of costs and legal fees to the plaintiffs.