Inmates’ Lawsuits Say Noise from Prison Welfare Checks Results in Sleep Deprivation
(by Julia Cheever) – A federal judge in San Francisco is mulling whether to dismiss two lawsuits in which state prison inmates claim that noise during welfare checks causes severe sleep deprivation amounting to unconstitutionally cruel punishment.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is also considering whether to transfer the two lawsuits to federal court in Sacramento, where a related case is being handled.
Chhabria took the case under consideration after hearing arguments today and will issue a written ruling at a later date.
The two lawsuits concern welfare and suicide checks carried out every 30 minutes by prison guards for state prisoners who are held in isolation in Security Housing Units, in which inmates generally spend 22 and one-half hours per day in their cells.
The checks are required by the settlement in federal court in Sacramento of a 1990 class action lawsuit concerning mental health treatment.
Since 2015, according to the lawsuits, guards have completed each check by striking a metal wand against a metal pad outside the door of each cell. The device is equipped with electronics that record when and where the
check took place.
The plaintiffs in the case are Christopher Lipsey, housed in the SHU at California State Prison, Corcoran, and Maher Suarez, formerly held in the SHU at state prison at Pelican Bay and now at Solano.
They claim the sleep deprivation resulting from the recurring noise has caused them to suffer headaches, dizzy spells, blurred vision, anxiety, impaired memory and inability to concentrate.
“It’s torture,” said Penny Schoner, a San Francisco resident who joined a rally outside the Federal Building before the hearing to show support for the prisoners.
“If you were in a cell 24 hours day and being awoken every half
hour night and day, what could you do?” she asked.
The rally of about 30 people was organized by the PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation. The committee is part of the Bay Area-based Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.
Committee spokeswoman Verbena Lea said the coalition had heard complaints about the noise from inmates in 14 different California prisons during the past two and one-half years.
Although the inmates weren’t in contact with one another, several from different prisons used the same wording – “metal on metal” – to describe the allegedly loud sounds, Lea said.
Lawyers for the state contend the lawsuits should be dismissed because the checks are required under the settlement of the 1990 lawsuit. They have also argued the noise is not excessive.