MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A years-old legal battle over conditions at Wisconsin's toughest prison could end next year.
Lawyers for inmates at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility and state attorneys reached a deal Friday in federal court calling for an end to the proceedings next year if the state Department of Corrections keeps screening mentally ill inmates out of the facility.
The $47 million, 509-bed prison in Boscobel, originally dubbed Supermax, opened in 1999 to house the state's most unruly, violent prisoners. Inmates filed a federal class action suit in 2000 claiming they were subjected to cruel and unusual living conditions in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The inmates reached a settlement with the state in 2002. That arrangement called for Corrections to change the prison's name; ensure cells get no hotter than 84 degrees; build an outdoor recreation center for inmates and give them at least five hours a week of exercise; and grant access to religious materials.
The deal set up a monitor to oversee changes at the facility. It also barred seriously mentally ill prisoners at the prison.
Friday's changes end the 2002 agreement pending U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb's approval, expected this week. Corrections Secretary Matt Frank said his agency has abided by the deal and improved conditions.
"We've made a lot of positive changes," he said.
The new arrangement addresses the last sticking point - mentally ill prisoners.
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The inmates' attorney, Ed Garvey, contends segregation at WSPF can send prisoners with severe mental disorders into psychosis.
"Isolation breaks people down," he said.
Frank said Corrections has been screening out inmates with severe mental illness since 2002. But Garvey said the agency has missed some ill inmates, and Frank said that may be true.
Under the new agreement, Corrections must continue the screening. Both sides will ask Crabb to appoint a psychiatric monitor to oversee the process and consult with the inmates and Corrections' psychiatric experts.
The agreement allows Corrections to move anyone from a maximum security prison to WSPF, which had been reserved for inmates that cause severe problems at other institutions. Frank said WSPF has space that isn't being used.
The new conditions will expire one year from Crabb's approval.
Garvey said he was pleased with the arrangement.
"I feel very good about it. Like everything, there's a compromise," Garvey said. "I don't frankly think there's a place for a Supermax prison anywhere, but we have one. So we try to make it as humane as possible."