Suit Claiming Inmate Mistreatment Post-Rita Tossed

August 24, 2010

A federal court has rejected an appeal from inmates at a federal prison in Beaumont who said in a lawsuit that they were mistreated in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion issued last month that was revised this week, upholds a lower court ruling.

Inmates at two lower-security federal prisons at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex were evacuated as the Category 3 storm approached but 453 prisoners in the maximum-security lockup remained. Several dozen inmates sued, contending they were left without electricity, potable water, food and medical care.

The three-judge appeals court panel determined the warden had the authority to keep them in place.

“We do not minimize or discount the severe hardships that the plaintiffs endured in the aftermath of the storm,” the judges wrote. “We simply lack jurisdiction to provide relief.”

An attorney for the inmates, Norman Sirak, said he was asking the New Orleans-based court to reconsider its decision.

Sirak said he believed the appellate court was wrong when it said he didn’t raise at the lower court the constitutional issue of cruel and unusual punishment.

Sirak said if the ruling was allowed to stand, it would “give the Federal Bureau of Prisons a license to treat federal prisoners like animals and do so with impunity.”

In their lawsuit, prisoners said they were without electricity for 36 days, that temperatures topped 100 degrees on 16 of those days, that inmates didn’t have medical care to treat chronic illnesses and that their first meal in four days included moldy bread and spoiled meat and cheese.

They also said they got one liter of water per day and couldn’t shower for 14 days.

In a footnote, the court said other inmate documents filed in the case in district court contradicted some of the allegations.

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