Three IDOC inmates file lawsuit claiming solitary confinement is inhumane

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From left to right: Douglas Coleman and Aaron Fillmore | Illinois Department of Corrections

Three men serving prison time for Chicago-area murders claim their constitutional rights have been violated because they have been placed in solitary confinement.

Douglas Coleman, 55; Aaron Fillmore, 40; and Jerome Jones, 38, filed a lawsuit together in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, and are seeking class-action status, meaning they want other inmates with similar claims to join the suit.

In the suit, all three describe conditions in solitary as filthy or unlivable. They also claim that at some point, they were not allowed to defend themselves against alleged disciplinary screw-ups that put them in solitary or extended their time there.

Coleman, sentenced to more than 100 years for the murder of a 16-year-old Waukegan girl in 1991, said he had to “sleep with one eye open” in the eight months he spent in solitary at Stateville Correctional Center because of mice and insect infestations, the suit said.

The suit claims his unit had cockroaches, mice and flying birds—and insects and mice were in the food he was given. During the winter, guards were told not to cover broken cell windows, he alleges.

Coleman claims he has been using a wheelchair after suffering a stroke, but was often required to clean showers, and was laughed at by officers when he fell in the bathroom. He has filed 15 grievances, but they were denied by administrative staff, according to the suit.

Fillmore has been serving 95 years for a 1994 DeKalb County murder conviction, as well as a Will County firearms conviction, according to the IDOC website. He claims he was transferred to Lawrence Correctional Center from Stateville and has been placed in “extreme isolation” for more than 15 years.

Besides Fillmore’s similar claims of filthiness in his unit—dirty blankets and being allowed only one shower a week—he suffers mentally from hardly any contact with others. He said there is no religious service available for those in solitary, and the chaplain does not visit those inmates, the suit said.

“Due to long-term isolation, I suffer from serious mental health issues which are not being treated due to prison officials’ deliberate indifference to my mental state,” Fillmore is quoted in the suit.

Additionally, in two of 25 grievances Fillmore filed, he claims his rights to due process were violated because evidence wasn’t reviewed in two disciplinary accusations against him. Both were denied.

He was recently sentenced to another year in isolation for a charge of gang activity within the prison, something he pleaded not guilty to. He claims he wasn’t allowed to review the alleged evidence IDOC had against him.

Jones, serving 70 years for a fatal Cook County home invasion in the early 1990s, claims he was removed from Stateville for unknown reasons in 2013, despite having no disciplinary problems since 2001, the suit said.

He only learned after filing a grievance that he was transferred to a solitary unit at Lawrence for gang involvement, the suit said. He denies that claim, saying he promoted a “peaceful and nonviolent culture” at Stateville. He claims he wasn’t given the opportunity to see the evidence against him or defend himself.

A spokeswoman for IDOC said the department is reviewing the lawsuit and would not comment Thursday afternoon.

The two-count suit claims violations of due process and imposing cruel and unusual punishment.

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