ACLU Sues State for Failing to Provide Adequate Heat at ACI Facility for More than a Month

Posted: Jan, 25, 2019

After receiving numerous complaints from inmates at the ACI’s Intake Center, the ACLU of RI today filed a class-action lawsuit against the RI Department of Corrections (DOC) claiming that the facility has failed to provide adequate heat to at least two cell blocks for more than a month and a half.  The lawsuit, filed by ACLU of RI cooperating attorneys Sonja Deyoe and Lynette Labinger, argues that the facility’s failure to provide heat during the coldest months of the year has made cells “dangerously cold,” placing prisoners’ health and safety at risk, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

A week ago, the ACLU of RI began receiving numerous calls from multiple inmates who said that their cell blocks didn’t have heat. Callers explained that, as a result, they were experiencing numbness in their extremities and had to stay in their beds all day under blankets with multiple layers of clothing in attempts to stay warm.

The suit alleges that the DOC has known for some time that the facility is in need of major upgrades to its heating system.  The suit claims that for the past month-and-a-half, “either cold air has been blowing into M and N Mods, no heat has been coming from the heating system whatsoever, or a combination of both,” and that the DOC has been “repeatedly made aware of the prisoners’ suffering, and continue to deny them sufficient heat to exist safely.”

The suit states that it “has been well established for many years through federal case law and through numerous other standards that inmates are entitled to adequate heat.” The suit points out that the State  has adopted housing standards which define minimum standards for habitability to require the use of heating systems that maintain 68 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The lawsuit requests that the court issue an order to immediately provide heat to the affected prison areas, or relocate prisoners to another, heated facility. In seeking the order, the suit notes that according to national weather forecasts, “the outside overnight temperature near the ACI is expected to drop well below freezing starting Friday January 25, 2019, to plummet to 7°F on January 31, 2019 and to remain below freezing overnight for at least the following seven days.”

ACLU of RI attorney Deyoe said today: “Heat is a basic need. It should be secured to everyone.”

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

A copy of the motion for a TRO can be found here.