On September 29, 1997, prisoners at various facilities within the New York State Department of Corrections filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Department officials. The plaintiffs, represented by Prisoners Legal Services of New York, brought the suit in the U.S. District ...
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On September 29, 1997, prisoners at various facilities within the New York State Department of Corrections filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Department officials. The plaintiffs, represented by Prisoners Legal Services of New York, brought the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, challenging the systemic deprivation of religious rights of Native American prisoners, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They asked the court for injunctive relief on behalf of all Native American prisoners in New York's correctional facilities who, because of the defendants' policies, were denied the opportunity to possess symbolic items necessary for religious practice; to engage in spiritual practices, including seasonal ceremonies and meetings for prayer or study; and to chant and dance, both in congregations and individually.
For approximately the following year and a half, the parties engaged in discovery. On March 24, 1999, and then July 9, 1999, the court (Judge Charles J. Siragusa) held settlement conferences. On that date, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement, approved by the court the same day. The parties agreed to create a Native American chaplain position, to allow inmates to practice their religion through group meetings, to possess certain religious items, and to celebrate religious holidays with family members. The Agreement also provided for staff notification and training as to the Native Americans' rights, and for a two-year observation period to follow entry of the Agreement in order to ensure compliance.
On February 16, 2000, the parties filed a Joint Supplemental Response to the Plaintiffs' Report of Comments, dated December 14, 1999, reflecting their agreed-to interpretation of certain provisions of the Settlement Agreement. These provisions included the role of the chaplain, the burning of Indian tobacco after corrections facilities become smoke-free, and the guests able to be invited to religious ceremonies.
Subsequently, on September 8, 2000, the court (Judge Siragusa) entered a decision and order approving the dismissal of the action pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement. The case was closed the same day.Laura Uberti - 06/27/2006