In June 2021, the American Civil Liberties of Wisconsin and a group of concerned attorneys filed a class action lawsuit about the inhumane conditions at Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel.
Content warning: Mentions of torture and suicide.
The suit alleged neglect of prisoners in need of medical attention, an increasing bedlam of mentally ill prisoners, and the frequent and repeated use of electroshock weapons on human beings are among the violations of rights the plaintiffs seek to halt.
The class action complaint, which amended an earlier filing by individual prisoners, states that the medical, mental health and dental care at the Super Maximum Correctional Institution (SMCI) were wholly inadequate.
As an example, the amended complaint states that a prisoner who suffers from terminal stomach cancer has lost 56 pounds since his transfer to the facility. The prisoner requires catheterization in order to urinate and must take a strong pain medication, up to once every three hours, to control the pain caused by his disease. The prisoner often receives his medication at incorrect times, with the result that he suffers severe pain and on one occasion no one came to catheterize him.
Mental illness is endemic at the Supermax, the complaint said, and mental health treatment is inadequate.
According to the complaint, numerous prisoners at the Supermax hear voices and are obsessed with suicidal thoughts, smear feces, swallow metal objects, cut their flesh, attempt suicide by drug overdose, attempt to hang themselves, and otherwise attempt to harm or kill themselves.
Furthermore, it is alleged that excessive use of force is an everyday occurrence at the facility. Staff at SMCI shock prisoners with electroshock weapons that emit a powerful and painful electric shock, often leaving burn marks on the skin.
In one instance, a prisoner with a chronic mental health problem was stunned 10-15 times because he covered his cell’s video camera and would not comply with an order to remove the covering from the camera. After being stunned, the prisoner was refused treatment by a nurse for the pain caused by the stun weapon.
On June 24, 2002, the judge approved a settlement agreement which restricted the supermax prison from housing mentally ill prisoners, and was supposed to guarantee all prisoners confined there at least the same rights and privileges of prisoners confined in segregation in other maximum security prisons in the state.
As part of the settlement, the defendants, including the Department of Corrections, Secretary Jon Litscher, and SMCI Warden Gerald Berge, were required to:
- Decrease amount of isolation and sensory deprivation by limiting amount of time incarcerated people could remain in isolation without cause and set a limit when cause existed
- Allow incarcerated people time for exercise outside their cell, privacy, including dimming lights and shudders, provide reading materials, expanded visitation, a regular shower routine, less physical restraints, more phone privileges, access to an outdoor recreational area and regulated cell temperatures. They also were to refrain from using some stunning devices in cells and stop feeding incarcerated people “nutri-loaf” as punishment.