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Crumbling Prison Doesn't Qualify as Eighth Amendment Violation

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is the sky falling or is that a piece of concrete from a crumbling prison ceiling?

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a prisoner proceeding pro se in an Eighth Amendment violation case this week, finding that the prisoner failed to make his case that the prisoner officers acted with deliberate indifference to the allegedly shoddy construction of the prison.

Payne County, Okla. built a new jail in June 2009. Soon thereafter, problems relating to the jail's structure began to emerge. Cracks began to form in the cell walls, leading to concerns that the cell bunks might fall. Officials requested that the jail's builder repair the infirmities pursuant to a warranty in the construction contract.

Payne County Jail Administrator Reese Lane advised Sheriff R.B. Hauf that the problem relating to the bunks posed a "serious safety issue" and that the construction company had planned repairs in response to his request. Lane continued requesting repairs to the walls in many of the cells; in April 2010, in light of a "rapid rate of bunk failure," Lane requested that "every bunk in the facility be fixed properly."

Lane's wish wasn't granted soon enough for plaintiff Chadwick Neal, who was an inmate in this jail in the summer of 2010. Before the repairs occurred, a piece of concrete fell from the top part of the wall above his bunk and struck him on the head. The prison provided Neal with medical care for his injuries.

Neal sued Hauf and Lane, claiming that their failure to prevent concrete from raining down on his head was an Eighth Amendment violation.

In an unpublished opinion, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to maintain "humane conditions of confinement." To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must first show that the conditions of confinement posed "a substantial risk of serious harm." Second, the prisoner must show that officials acted with a "deliberate indifference." This second prong requires proof that the officials were aware of the risk, and failed to take "reasonable measures to abate it."

Neal's claim failed on the second prong. Here, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals noted Neal did not properly submit evidence that prison officials had notice of -- and failed to act upon -- the particular problems in his cell.

Eighth Amendment violations are hard to prove; instead of bare allegations, a prisoner needs facts to prevail.

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