LOS LUNAS, N.M. (AP) - State correctional officials and nearly 500 former and current inmates have reached a settlement agreement that would pay out $750,000 to inmates allegedly forced to strip down and sit front to back for long periods.
Court documents show that the agreement was reached after several months of negotiations and two mediations, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
The proposed agreement, which a judge still has to approve, also calls for a change in the so-called "controlled seating" policy. The deal mandates a 1-foot-wide gap between inmates if they're told to sit and straddle each other in times of unrest or emergency.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2011 after inmates claimed they were subjected to the practice at least four times in 2009 and 2010 at the Los Lunas Correctional Facility.
Inmates described being guarded by gun-wielding corrections officers wearing face masks, being forced to strip to their underwear and sitting single file on the gymnasium floor with their genitals touching the next inmate, according to court documents.
Inmates said they were held in this position for several hours without access to a bathroom, the lawsuit said. In one instance, an inmate urinated on the prisoner in front of him, and several prisoners were forced to sit in the urine, the lawsuit says.
As part of the proposed agreement, inmates and their lawyers would divvy up the settlement, and the "correctional seating" policy would change.
State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alex Tomlin said she could not comment on the agreement because it hadn't yet been finalized. She did say that "controlled seating" operations are very rare but are still an option for corrections officers who are trying to take control of a chaotic situation.
Matthew Coyte, one of the inmates' attorneys, said the case had been stalling over the past two years.
"We've come a long way," he told the Journal. "It took two years to get to this point, in the face of repeated denials that it happened at all."
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