MADISON, Wis. —Life is getting better for some of Wisconsin's most dangerous and worst-behaving prisoners.
To settle lawsuits filed by inmates, state officials have agreed to make wide-ranging changes to the segregation unit at the maximum-security Waupun Correctional Institution to make it easier for them to sleep, exercise and communicate.
The 180 inmates who are housed there because they violated prison rules or were deemed a security risk to the general population will be getting new windows, magazines and even Hacky Sacks, according to settlements signed last month and obtained by the Associated Press.
The Department of Corrections said Thursday that the changes will cost more than $60,000, and the settlements award the inmates and their attorneys an additional $113,000 in fees and damages.
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Inmates Matthew R. Schumacher and Shaun J. Matz had sued, arguing that the conditions in the cells were so isolating and harsh that they violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment and worsened their mental illnesses. Each had tried to kill himself at Waupun, which a state audit released last year found had the highest suicide rate of all state prisons.
Both had complained that fluorescent night lights constantly on for security purposes made it hard for them to sleep, and they were not allowed to cover their eyes without facing discipline. They said the frosted glass windows in their cells didn't allow them to see outside or even discern what time of day it was.
The two also said their four hours of "recreation" per week consisted of going to small cages where there was no exercise equipment and that were freezing cold in the winter. (Their prison-issued coats were also stored in the cold cages). They said they couldn't have photographs of loved ones, couldn't read magazines, couldn't communicate with other inmates or buy basic supplies from the canteen.
All that will change under the settlement, which avoids an expensive class-action lawsuit like ones that have been filed against other state prisons in recent years over harsh conditions.
"These are significant changes that will improve the conditions of confinement for all prisoners in the segregation unit at Waupun," said Gregory Everts of Quarles & Brady law firm.