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Most plaintiffs dismissed from lawsuit over Waupun prison conditions

State argued inmates hadn't exhausted internal complaint process before they sued

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Waupun Correctional Institution
The Waupun Correctional Institution on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, in Waupun, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A federal judge has dismissed most of the plaintiffs from a lawsuit arguing that lockdown conditions at Wisconsin’s Waupun prison amount to cruel and punishment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin granted a motion from the state for partial summary judgement.

Attorneys for the Department of Corrections cited federal law in arguing for removing the plaintiffs, saying prisoners are required to exhaust any internal complaints processes before they sue over prison conditions.

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Duffin wrote Thursday that eight of the 10 incarcerated men who are suing had not exhausted those administrative processes before the case was filed.

As a result, the judge dismissed claims over inadequate mental health care and the harmful effects of solitary confinement.

The case remains open, however, after Duffin determined that two inmates — Kevin Burkes Jason Natcone — can proceed with their claims about inadequate health care and dental care, respectively.

In an email Friday, Lonnie Story, an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote that the case is “not over.”

Story said he intends to file a new motion, asking for additional plaintiffs to be added to the case.

Additionally, a prior motion from Story asking for class action status in the case, is still pending. That could potentially encompass more than 900 men who’ve been incarcerated at Waupun since the Department of Corrections first imposed a lockdown over a year ago, previous court filings noted.

Citing safety issues, prison officials began restricting the movement and activities of inmates at Waupun in March of last year, under what the department refers to as “modified movement” status.

Prison officials say they’ve since lifted some of those restrictions, although as of earlier this spring, inmates were still facing limits on their recreation while being cut off from in-person visitation.

The latest Department of Corrections data shows Waupun remains understaffed, with more than half of corrections officer positions sitting vacant at the maximum security facility. That compares to a vacancy rate just over 21 percent for those positions across Wisconsin’s adult prison system.

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