- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is working to improve conditions for inmates at a state prison in Wasilla, where access to outdoor recreation for those in protective custody is limited to an enclosed room that lets in fresh air through an opening in the roof.

Some Goose Creek Correctional Center inmates, including Jimmy Nix, a convicted sex offender, say the concrete room that’s considered their outdoor recreation area is depressing.

“The part where you get locked down in your room? It takes its toll on you already,” Nix told the Alaska Public Radio Network (https://bit.ly/2hxbhFD ). “But the part where you can’t go outside, see the sunshine, see a tree, watch a bird? It’s very depressing. It weighs on you.”

The ACLU’s Tara Rich said the space doesn’t guarantee protection of inmates’ rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

“I have not seen any sort of guarantee, for Eighth Amendment purposes, an open window in an enclosed room would be equivalent to guaranteeing a meaningful opportunity for outdoor exercise,” Rich said.

Under DOC policy, the room with fresh air meets the requirements for prisoners’ daily outdoor recreation. The space also has exercise equipment and a basketball hoop.

“It’s outside-inside. That’s what I’ve always been told,” said Goose Creek Superintendent John Conant. The room is considered outdoor recreation “because of the fresh air. That’s the main thing.”

Conant said inmates voluntarily choose to be in protective custody and have the option to transfer to other units.

For Nix, protective custody was a way to escape the threats from inmates in the general population.

“There was a lot of taunting,” Nix said. “Lot of things being said. ‘Kill yourself.’”

Inmates in the prison’s Special Management Unit, or SMU, live, eat and recreate in separate areas. In addition to the enclosed recreational area, they have limited access to education programs and are only allowed out of their cells for a few hours each day.

The ACLU is working with the state Department of Corrections to improve conditions at the prison for inmates in various segregated units, including the SMU, Rich said.

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Information from: KSKA-FM, https://www.kska.org


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