LINCOLN — A federal judge has dismissed a portion of a civil rights lawsuit that maintains that Nebraska’s overcrowded prison system provides inadequate health and mental health care, particularly for disabled inmates, and overutilizes solitary confinement.
The ACLU of Nebraska, which filed the lawsuit, characterized the ruling Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter as a win that preserved almost all of the lawsuit against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, the State Board of Parole and leaders in those agencies.
“This is a complete victory for us. All of our claims survive, all of our claims go forward,” said David Fathi, who directs the ACLU’s national effort to ensure civil rights of prison inmates.
The judge, in his ruling, clarified that the lawsuit can proceed, though the state agencies cannot be sued directly. Fathi said that the state agencies are still part of the lawsuit, however, because the agency heads, in their official capacities, remain as defendants.
The lawsuit in Nebraska, the nation’s second-most overcrowded prison system, is among the litigation brought by the ACLU in several states over overcrowded or substandard conditions in prisons.
Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the state agencies, said the ruling was appreciated and that “(we) look forward to defending the remainder of this case.”
After threatening a lawsuit for months, the ACLU of Nebraska followed through in August. The lawsuit made four main allegations of cruel and unusual punishment: inadequate levels of health care, overuse of solitary confinement, and denial of access by disabled inmates both to prison programs and to release on parole.
In November, the state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, maintaining that the 11 inmates named lacked legal standing and had not incurred injuries.
The ACLU has said it hopes the state will work with it to improve prison conditions in Nebraska, thus avoiding the cost of going to trial.
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