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Pretrial detention.

U.S. District Court



Benjamin v. Fraser 161 F.Supp.2d 151 (S.D.N.Y. 2001). Department of Corrections officials who had entered into a consent decree governing conditions for pretrial detainees in New York City jails moved for the immediate termination of those decrees under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The consent decree involved fourteen jails that housed over 10,000 inmates. The district court terminated some provisions of the decree, including those involving inmate correspondence and law libraries. The court held a hearing on the issues of environmental health and personal hygiene supplies.

The court held that ventilation problems constituted a violation of detainees' due process rights. In one facility, experts were unable to detect any ventilation in 21 of 43 locations, including two medical treatment rooms.

The court found that temperature extremes violated due process, noting that extremes of temperature present health risks as well as discomfort. One expert testified that the human comfort zone is between 67 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, but because inmates are for the most part sedentary, their general comfort zone is between 72 and 78 degrees. The Department of Corrections had adopted the minimum standards established in the New York City Health Code: between October 1 and May 31st between 0600 and 2200 hours a temperature of at least 68 degrees F when outside temperatures fall below 55 degrees F, and between 2200 and 0600 at least 55 degrees F if the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees F. The court found that "credible evidence tends to show that air temperatures in the Department's jails do not meet constitutional standards." District Judge Baer stated that a Department report that measured temperatures on April 24 and 25, 2000, "does nothing to assuage my concerns that detainees are being subjected to constitutionally indefensible air temperatures" because the survey was conducted on days when the outside temperature was moderate. The judge also noted that the Department's maintenance records showed numerous references to reports of no heat in Department facilities.

The court ordered comprehensive monitoring of temperatures during the succeeding winter and summer so that the adequacy of the jails' heating and cooling facilities could be determined.

According to the court, the presence of some inoperable sinks, toilets and showers in the jails did not rise to the level of a violation of pretrial detainees' due process rights. Judge Baer concluded "Clearly, in some of the institutions the plumbing is deplorable, but one must keep in mind that we are dealing with prisons juxtaposed with the tests set out in the applicable caselaw."

The court found that the mere presence of vermin in the jails did not rise to the level of a violation of pretrial detainees' due process rights. The court distinguished "vermin activity" and "vermin infestation."

State health code violations in the jails' food service were not found to rise to the level of a violation of pretrial detainees' due process rights, where sanitary practices were adequate and no detainee had suffered a reported incident of food-borne illness.

The court held that sporadic denial of detainee personal hygiene items in the jails did not rise to the level of a violation of pretrial detainees' due process rights, where the jails overall provided adequate hygiene supplies. According to the terms of the consent decree, each detainee, upon admission to an institution, is provided at Department expense with personal items that include but are not limited to: soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a drinking cup, toilet paper, a towel, a comb and a mirror (if one was not available in the assigned cell.) These items are to be replenished or replaced as needed by the institution at the Department's expense.

According to the court, the fact that the city jails' laundry facilities were inadequate to handle all of the pretrial detainees' clothing, and that laundry detergent was generally unavailable, did not rise to the level of constitutional violations, where the detainees had adequate opportunity to launder their clothes by hand.

Due process violations were found from the combination of various unsanitary conditions in cells and clinics, together with poor lighting. The court noted that the combination of inhumane conditions of confinement may violate the constitution when taken together-- such as cold temperature combined with lack of blankets-- even though each condition alone would not amount to a violation. The conditions included: unsanitary mattresses; soiled light shields and other lighting problems; dirty or clogged ventilation registers; vermin activity; mildewed and decrepit bathroom and shower areas; clogged toilets; dirty janitor's closets; shortages of laundry detergent; dirty cells; and dirty clinic areas.

The court noted that adequate lighting is one of the fundamental attributes of adequate shelter. Lighting problems can be traced to several problems, according to the court: (1) non-working light fixtures; (2) inadequate light bulb wattage; and (3) obstructed light shields. The court concluded [pun intended?]: "In light of the above, it is clear that detainees in the Department's jails, with the exception of ARDC and AMKC, are subjected to constitutionally inadequate light." The court directed the parties to submit recommendations for prospective relief and suggested that they look into the foot candle standards maintained within ARDC and AMKC as an example of constitutionally sufficient lighting. Lighting was found to be deficient in two medical areas and were placed under continuing court supervision.

The court found that excessive noise may violate the Constitution if it threatens inmates' mental health or deprives them of sleep. The court cited the standards of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American Correctional Association (ACA) which set maximum noise levels at 70 decibels during the daytime and 45 decibels at night. Excessive noise was measured in one facility, caused by diesel generators that were scheduled to be decommissioned. The court ordered the parties to submit recommendations for prospective relief at two facilities. Conditions in modular housing units warranted separate treatment by the court. The units were designed as temporary housing and have a life expectancy of five years; the oldest units had been in use for more than 15 years. The court ordered the Department to submit a schedule that would phase the deficient units out use by mid-2003. The court found that officials were deliberately indifferent to the problems with ventilation, noting that the consent decree had been in effect for several years. (New York City Department of Corrections)

U.S. Appeals Court




Benjamin v. Fraser. 264 F.3d 175 (2nd Cir. 2001). A city corrections department moved for immediate termination of consent decrees requiring judicial supervision over restrictive housing, inmate correspondence, and law libraries at city jails, pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The district court vacated the decrees and pretrial detainees appealed. The appeals court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. On remand the district court granted the motion in part and denied it in part and the city appealed. The appeals affirmed. The appeals court held that the detainees were not required to show actual injury when they challenged regulations which allegedly adversely affected their Sixth Amendment right to counsel by impeding attorney visitation.

The appeals court concluded that there was a continuing need for prospective relief with respect to the detainees' right to counsel, and the relief granted by the district court satisfied the requirements of PLRA. The court found that detainees were experiencing unjustified delays during attorney visitation. The district court required procedures to be established to ensure that attorney visits commenced within a specified time period following arrival at the jail, and the city was instructed to ensure the availability of an adequate number of visiting rooms that provide the requisite degree of privacy.

The appeals court held that the restraints used when moving certain detainees within, or outside, the jail, had a "severe and deleterious effect" on the detainees given that such restraints were often painful and could result in injury. The appeals court agreed with the district court that detainees were entitled to reasonable after-the-fact procedural protections to ensure that such restrictions were terminated reasonably soon if they were not justified. These procedures include a hearing, written decision, timely review of appeal from placement in special restraint status, and the opportunity to seek further review based on goad cause. (New York City Department of Correction)

U.S. District Court


Johnson v. Herman, 132 F.Supp.2d 1130 (N.D.Ind. 2001). A detainee who was incarcerated beyond his release date brought a [section] 1983 action against jail authorities, alleging violation of his substantive due process rights. The district court denied summary judgment for the defendants, finding that a jailer's record notations that a judge had ordered the detainee to remain in jail and later had ordered the detainee released, were admissible as non-hearsay evidence that the jailer did not act with deliberate indifference in retaining custody. The court held that summary judgment was precluded by an issue of material fact as to whether the jail's "Inmate Request Form" policy, which was used to correct defects in its "will call" policy for holding detainees following their appearances in court, was being implemented in a manner suggesting deliberate indifference to the right of detainees to be timely released. The court noted that the jailers were not entitled to qualified immunity because the right of a deta inee not to be held without a court order was clearly established at the time of the incident. (Allen County Jail, Indiana)

U.S. Appeals Court



Mayoral v. Sheahan, 245 F.3d 934 (7th Cir. 2001). A pretrial detainee who was severely injured in a gang-instigated jailhouse riot brought a civil rights suit against a county sheriff and jail officers, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his safety. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants and the detainee appealed. The appeals court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The appeals court held that the failure of the jail to segregate inmates by gang affiliation was not a constitutional violation, given the high number of gang members housed in the jail and the burden that would be placed on administrators by such a policy. The court found that summary judgment was precluded by fact issues as to whether the detainee bad asked an officer for protective custody and was ignored, and whether an officer delayed in summoning help when fighting broke out. (Cook County Jail, Illinois)

U.S. Appeals Court



Thompson v. Upshur County. TX, 245 F.3d 447 (5th Cir. 2001). Parents whose son had died of medical conditions associated with his delirium tremens while he was a pretrial detainee in a county jail, sued under [section] 1983. The district court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds and the defendants appealed. The appeals court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The appeals court held that the sheriff of the jail to which the detainee was first admitted was entitled to qualified immunity in connection with the death of the detainee, which occurred following his transfer to another county jail that had the detoxification facilities that his jail lacked. The sheriff of the jail in the receiving county did not violate any clearly established right in failing to instruct his staff on the potentially life-threatening nature of medical conditions associated with delirium tremens and was entitled to qualified immunity, according to the appeals court. But the appeals court found that a sergeant at the jail in which the detainee died was not entitled to qualified immunity because of fact questions as to whether she had instructed her subordinates not to disturb her at home unless a detainee was on the verge of death, or whether she had otherwise interfered with the detainee's receipt of medical care. (Upshur County Jail and Marion County Jail, Texas)

U.S. District Court


U.S. v. Weston 134 F.Supp.2d 115 (D.D.C. 2001. An appeals court affirmed the decision of the federal Bureau of Prisons to administer antipsychotic medication to a detainee who allegedly killed Capitol police officers. On remand to the district court, the court held that the government would be permitted to treat the defendant involuntarily with such medication because it was appropriate and essential in order to render the defendant non-dangerous based on medical/safety concerns, and to restore the defendant's competency to stand trial. (Federal Correctional Institute, Butner, North Carolina)

U.S. District Court


Wells v. Jefferson County Sheriff Dept., 159 F.Supp.2d 1002 (S.D.Ohio 2001). A former inmate filed a [section] 1983 against a county sheriffs department, sheriff and two deputy officers employed at a county jail. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court found that jail officers were not liable for failing to protect the inmate from another prisoner who had previously attacked him. The officers moved the former inmate to a different cell block upon learning of the history between inmates, and the former inmate did not allege that he experienced any physical injury as the result of being attacked a second time. The court held that the former inmate's allegations that the single blanket he was allowed in a holding cell was not adequate to keep him warm, and that cockroaches climbed on him while he slept, did not state Eighth Amendment claims where he did not complain to any officers or officials that the cell was uncomfortable or unsanitary. (Jefferson County Jail, Ohio)
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Corrections Caselaw Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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