Suit targets mingling of old, young inmates
July 16, 2013 11:00 AM
by CHAUNCEY ROSS

Inmates have gone to court time and again with complaints about bad prison food and what they perceive as unfair discipline.

Now officials at State Correctional Institution Pine Grove, the maximum security prison just outside Indiana, are hearing a new one: They are being sued by two inmates who don’t like having young people around them.

In lawsuits filed this month in Indiana County Common Pleas Court, inmates William Maskelunas and Dean Praias are seeking at least $10,000 in damages, claiming that being forced to commingle with inmates less than 18 years old is a violation of their 14th Amendment rights.

Maskelunas filed his lawsuit July 2, and the one filed by Praias on July 5 is a virtual photocopy.

Both have named Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, Pine Grove Superintendent Eric Bush and assistant superintendents Mark Grove and Marshall Shirley as defendants.

Officials at the Pine Grove prison and the Harrisburg offices of the corrections department had no comment on the lawsuits.

“All defendant’s chronically and continually subjected and made Plaintiff to mix with juveniles under the age of 18, in multiple areas of the prison,” the suits contend.

Maskelunas and Praias complain of dining, taking classes and going to church services in the same areas as juvenile prisoners. They are in contact with juveniles in the maintenance building and “in the haircut facility which is in the alleged juvenile sector,” according to the lawsuits.

“Plaintiff is elderly and is always within the medical building due to illnesses where juveniles under the age of 18 … are present … with adults, shoulder to shoulder,” they have charged.

Maskelunas is 58; Praias is 52. Both claim that being required to be in the presence of juveniles causes them emotional distress.

The Pine Grove prison was commissioned in the mid-1990s as a high-security jail for violent juvenile offenders. It opened in January 2001, and within a year it was also being used to house adult offenders because of overcrowding throughout the state prison system.

It was built to accommodate 500 inmates. After several expansion projects, the capacity at Pine Grove was increased to 1,163. On June 30, the prison operated at 103.4 percent of capacity, housing 1,226 inmates — all male.

Corrections officials could not provide a breakdown of adult and juvenile offenders.

In their suits, Praias and Maskelunas wrote that they have exhausted their three-step administrative grievance procedure, and now they want a judge to order the prison to segregate them from juvenile inmates.

Citing a 1936 court decision, the lawsuits claim that a previous ruling holds that the word “liberty” as used in the 14th Amendment passage, “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” “embraces not only the right of the person to be free from physical restraint, but the right to be free in enjoyment of all his faculties as well.”

Maskelunas was sent to SCI Pine Grove on April 1 to serve a sentence for acquiring or obtaining narcotics by misrepresentation. His maximum term would expire Oct. 1, 2014.

Online court records show Maskelunas is named in 28 criminal court cases filed as long ago as 1974 in Allegheny, Beaver, Cambria and Blair counties.

Praias was convicted of possessing an instrument of crime and was sent to SCI Pine Grove on April 13 to serve a term that would expire Dec. 14.

His criminal history in Pennsylvania dates to 1994, with 26 criminal cases adjudicated in Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

Neither has an attorney to represent him in the civil actions filed against SCI Pine Grove.

The Indiana County court records show Maskelunas was excused from paying fees and costs associated with his lawsuit. No responses have been filed from the defendants, and no dates have been set for hearings on the lawsuits.

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