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Prison jumpsuits don't constitute cruel and unusual punishment

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Requiring inmates to wear lightweight jumpsuits instead of shirt and pants is not cruel and unusual punishment, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Prisoner James Daher at the Miami Correctional Facility sought a temporary restraining order preventing the Indiana Department of Correction from implementing a plan to issue jumpsuits to inmates rather than shirts and pants. Daher claimed he would suffer irreparable harm because the jumpsuits are ill-fitting, poor quality, and a made of thin material, which would be an issue during cold months. He also argued forcing inmates to wear the jumpsuits would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The trial court dismissed his petition after screening it through guidelines listed in Indiana Code 35-58-1-2, although the judge didn’t say whether he dismissed it for failure to state a claim or because it was frivolous.  

Daher relies on I.C. 5-23-5 et seq., which sets out the procedures to be followed by governmental entities that wish to enter into agreements with private parties in certain circumstances. He claimed that he’s entitled to the TRO because the DOC engaged in impropriety when it awarded the contract for making jumpsuits without engaging in a public bidding process. The contract Daher challenges regarding prison uniforms isn’t governed by this statute so his argument fails, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander in James Daher v. Mark Sevier, No. 52A04-1103-MI-150.

With regards to Daher’s argument that the poor quality of the jumpsuit would subject him to cruel and unusual punishment, that argument also fails.

“Without meaning to be flip, we presume that the facility in which he is housed is heated in the winter and that he will be provided with appropriate outer wear in the event he must go outside into the cold,” wrote the judge. “In short, his complaint addresses matters of comfort that do not rise to the level of wanton deprivation or undue suffering. In fact, the condition of which he complains falls so far below the Eighth Amendment threshold of cruel and unusual punishment that it can fairly be characterized as a trivial complaint in that context.”

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