Six Utah State Prison inmates are suing prison officials because they believe the prison's new policy on legal counsel for inmates violates their constitutional right to access to the court.
The prison's policy, effective July 17, no longer provides inmates with general civil legal assistance. Gary W. Deland, executive director of the Department of Corrections, sent inmates a memo on July 2 telling them the prison will no longer provide lawyers to assist them with problems like divorces, wills and creditor disputes.After July 17, the four contract attorneys hired by the corrections department will assist inmates only with challenges to criminal convictions beyond an appeal. But the assistance will be provided only up until the challenge is filed.
"Then the inmates are left to flounder, because there is no law library and no assistance," said Brian Barnard, attorney for the inmates.
The complaint, an amendment to a previous suit filed in U.S. District Court, asks Federal Judge Thomas Greene to rule that the inmates' civil rights are violated by Deland's new policy.
The suit noted that the prison does not have a law library and alleged that inmates are "precluded or greatly restricted" from providing legal help to each other.
The complaint said that since the new policy was implemented, the six inmates had been denied legal counsel in filing divorce actions, a civil rights action against corrections employees, a civil rights action against the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department, a workers' compensation claim, a claim for breach of contract, a small claims court action and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Contract attorney Wayne Freestone told the inmates he could assist them with some research and case law before a case was filed, but he could no longer do so after it was filed. The complaint said the inmates were denied legal assistance on a civil rights case and criminal appeal case already filed.
Barnard said the prison's more restrictive policy was formed shortly after a legislative audit found that the legal services already provided at the prison were inadequate.
"The auditors found that only 70 percent of the inmates who needed legal help were getting it. Then shortly thereafter, Gary Deland announces the prison has a new contract with the lawyers and will cut back legal services for prisoners even further. That's the way Gary Deland seems to work.
"There was nothing in that report that said the prison was providing too much service or was going beyond what was required. Just the opposite. The auditors said they liked what the prison was doing but prisoners needed to get legal help 100 percent of the time, not 70 percent of the time."