Inmate’s moldy mattress worth $295,000

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2008

Following a jail riot, Reggie Townsend, serving 23 years in a Wisconsin prison, was put in a segregation unit with “wet, moldy and foul-smelling” bedding which the jailer did not change despite his request. “Though he did not suffer any physical harm from the unsanitary bedding, Townsend was deprived of the ‘minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,’ the jury decided after deliberating six hours,” and awarded him $295K. (The Smoking Gun, Sept. 19; AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sept. 23).

{ 11 comments }

1 Deoxy 09.24.08 at 9:37 am

I would happily sleep on a wet mattress for the bargain price of $5000 a night. Heck, I’d do it for the bargain BASEMENT price of $1000 a night.

And I didn’t even kill anyone.

2 pete 09.24.08 at 11:24 am

My own suspicion is that the source of dampness to make the mattress moldy in the first place would be – how do I put this – metabolic end products from the prisoner in question.

3 Todd Rogers 09.24.08 at 11:25 am

Though I’m confident that this will be overturned on appeal, in the unlikely event that Reggie Townsend does prevail in the appeals, I sincerely hope that his victim’s family has already filed a civil suit against him.

4 spudbeach 09.24.08 at 12:56 pm

Yeah, it sounds bad, but what’s the alternative? Shall we just let the prison do anything they want? Heck, why even bother with a prison — I’m sure a big pit for the prisoners would be cheaper, and we might even be able to make some money by selling the video rights. Oh — but that wouldn’t be civilized. And neither is forcing a prisoner to sleep on a mattress made wet and moldy by shower runoff. If I’d been on the jury, I would have voted the same way.

Oh, and I second the motion for the victim’s family to file a suit. Hopefully, the statue of limitations won’t bar it.

5 Jason Barney 09.24.08 at 2:07 pm

How about the state enforcing a lien against the judgment for the costs of imprisoning him? If he receives a windfall and therefore has ability to pay shouldn’t the taxpayers recover the costs for his food, guard salaries etc? Just a thought.

6 Todd Rogers 09.24.08 at 4:47 pm

I nominate Mr. Jason Barney for an “Excellence in Ideas” award, if there is such a thing.

7 Jim Collins 09.24.08 at 4:58 pm

Uhhh. Maybe the guy had a point? If he was given a mattress that was in good condition and it became dank and moldy because of his actions then I think that his lawsuit was bogus. If he was given a mattress in bad condition then the prison was in the wrong and I agree with his lawsuit. I really don’t care what crime he was incarcerated for, because it has no bearing on his lawsuit.

As far as the money he was awarded is concerned, if he owed restitution or fines for his original crime then it should be paid out of this money. As far as the State charging him for his incarceration goes, fine, provided they also charge every other prisoner who has the means to pay.

8 gitarcarver 09.24.08 at 6:31 pm

According to court documents, the dispute is tied to a November 2004 riot at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution that left a dozen guards hurt. Warden Catherine Farrey ordered prisoners who were involved into segregation pending an investigation.

So the guy gets to create the situation that leads to this incident and then gets to benefit from it?

Sorry, but that dawg just don’t hunt.

And by the way….
One of the inmates was Reggie Townsend, who is serving a 23-year sentence for first-degree reckless homicide. He was among a group of men who shot up a Milwaukee neighborhood in 2000 in retaliation for an incident the night before at a bar. A stray bullet killed an 11-year-old girl inside her grandmother’s apartment.

9 Todd Rogers 09.24.08 at 7:40 pm

Jim, the only problem I have with this – well one of the problems is, if the suit and verdict are just bogus, then Mr. Townsend doesn’t actually pay out anything. He’s a flow-through and the tax payers merely dole out a slice of the verdict to his counsel. If this is the case, I’m inclined to believe that his fees will probably come in right at about the amount of the verdict. Of course if you ask them, it’s not about the money.

10 Tom Scott 09.24.08 at 7:54 pm

This does not surprise me in the least. You wonder what prisoners are costing taxpayers in verdicts and settlements. Check out http://www.cala.com for the recent study we released on prisoner litigation in California. 33 prisons and in each prison there is a full time position titled “litigation coordinator”. They are paid $120,000 annually just to manage the case load for each prison.

11 Deoxy 09.25.08 at 10:52 am

Yeah, it sounds bad, but what’s the alternative? Shall we just let the prison do anything they want? … If I’d been on the jury, I would have voted the same way.

Was the prison in the wrong? Well, at least to a certain extent (they were dealing with the aftermath of a pretty significant prison riot, which clearly strained their resources), but let’s assume it for sake of argument.

The problem is not that the prison and/or the individuals involved need to be punished, it’s that the prisoner in question shouldn’t get a large chunk of money out of the deal ($5000 a night?!? As I said, I’d voluntarily do it for far less).

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