SUPERMAX PRISON Inmates to see start of trial
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The suit challenges the prison's concept.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal judge met behind bars Monday to open a trial over conditions at Ohio's supermax prison on the East Side.
The suit challenges the concept of the prison, where inmates are locked in their cells 23 hours a day and shackled and strip-searched each time they come and go.
U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin wanted to see the prison and let inmates watch the opening, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. A coalition of lawyers and organizations, including the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York City, sued on inmates' behalf.
Judge Gwin was moving the rest of the trial to his courtroom in Akron after the Monday session. The case continues today.
The trial is expected to last about a week. The lawsuit, filed a year ago, asks that prison conditions be ruled unconstitutional and that the state be ordered to change its treatment of prisoners. It calls the conditions inhumane.
The prison opened in April 1998 to house the toughest prisoners in Ohio. There are 517 inmates at the high maximum-security prison and a separate, minimum security camp on the same grounds. The supermax itself has about 450 inmates.
The lawsuit says cells have extremely limited natural light but fluorescent lights remain on 24 hours a day. Inmates are punished if they try to shield their eyes, the suit says.
Recreation area: The state released $385,820 in September for a new outdoor recreation area, hoping that would resolve some of the lawsuit's issues.
The space would have eight sections that somewhat open to the sky, with heavy-duty chain-link fencing above it. Now, the recreation space is a cell inside the prison that has a window with a metal grate over it, allowing natural light and air to come in.
Inmates have access to the cell five hours a week but are locked down for the rest of the time except for showers, the state said. Sometimes inmates can leave their cells to study for a high school equivalency test.