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UNITED STATES EX REL. WOLFISH v. UNITED STATES

January 5, 1977.

UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Louis R. WOLFISH et al., Relators,
v.
UNITED STATES of America et al., Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKEL

FRANKEL, District Judge.

Originally brought by a prisoner, who was transferred long ago but whose name still begins the caption, this action assails a number of conditions in the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center ("MCC") adjoining this Courthouse. The Federal Defender Services Unit, assigned by the court to represent petitioner class, *fn1" has pursued an extensive course of discovery, motions for preliminary injunction, *fn2" and other preparations for a trial which should begin within the next couple of months. In the meantime, claiming some issues are now ready for decision in their favor, petitioners have moved for partial summary judgment. Respondents have made a cross-motion urging that they should have summary judgment now dismissing most of the claims pressed in relators' motion; as to other matters, respondents urge that there are issues of fact requiring a trial. The motions before the court are described and decided as follows; most of the discussion dealing with matters found ripe for decision today, but noting along the way issues postponed for trial.

I.

 Designed and billed as a kind of modern showplace among jail facilities when it opened on August 2, 1975, the MCC contains some dormitory accommodations, but was designed mainly to house prisoners in a total of 389 rooms. The overall structure is 12 stories tall. Each floor designed to house prisoners has one or two largely self-contained units of dormitory or room facilities. Within each unit composed of rooms, there are groups of two to six "clusters" (a cluster being a corridor flanked by two rows of rooms), each containing five to eight rooms. The clusters or corridors open onto two-story "multipurpose" or common rooms. The multipurpose areas typically contain chairs, couches, pay telephones, television sets, eating tables, work tables, mail boxes, exercise apparatus, typewriters, laundry facilities, ping pong and pool tables, and water fountains.

 Some of the housing units also have pantries equipped with microwave ovens, drink dispensers, refrigerators, coffee urns, and ice machines. In addition to a toilet and washbasin in each room, there is one shower for each cluster and, on certain floors, additional toilet facilities.

 Each housing unit has a visiting room with tables, chairs, couches, and bathroom facilities, and an education area with blackboards and bulletin boards. There is a rooftop recreation area with basketball, volleyball, and handball courts, and gym equipment.

 Though built primarily as a pretrial detention center, the MCC also houses state prisoners and others in protective custody, post-conviction sentenced inmates, and youthful offenders. These "non-pretrial" inmates may comprise, on a daily basis, between 40 and 60% of the population. *fn3"

 A major point on which petitioners now seek summary judgment is their complaint against the housing of two people in rooms said to have been intended for single occupancy. Respondents say triable issues of fact preclude decision now on this problem. The court has reviewed the extensive papers and exhibits addressed to this subject. In addition, while there has been no formal trial, the court has adopted respondents' suggestion and visited the MCC, with counsel for both sides, for the particular purpose of considering the physical facts of double celling. The result is that there appear to be no genuine issues as to facts fairly to be deemed material. The court concludes that petitioners are correct.

 It is not disputed that each of the 389 rooms was, in respondents' word, "designated" for occupancy by a single inmate when the MCC first opened. In late November, 1975, however, as the population consigned to the MCC grew at a rate evidently unanticipated at the opening so short a time before, it was decided that some rooms would be used to house two prisoners each. As of the time of this decision, 121 of the rooms have now been "designated" for two inmates.

 There are two basic categories of these double-occupancy rooms. By far the larger group - some 100 in all - are rooms with total floor space of 75 to 77 square feet. Each of these contains a double bunkbed (with one or two drawers placed on the floor under the lower bunk), a three-drawer desk, one (or sometimes, two) chairs, a shelf for toilet articles (approximately 2feet X 4inch), a wash basin, an uncovered toilet, an extension lamp, and a three-foot book shelf (missing from many of the rooms during the court's visit while wall repairs are being completed). There is no place to hang clothing. The narrow aisle running the length of these rooms provides some 30 to 35 square feet of floor space available to be walked on.

 The second category of rooms now used for double occupancy is a group of 21 in a so called honor unit; these are considerably less cramped and somewhat less disagreeably equipped for purposes of double occupancy. These rooms were originally designed as part of the hospital unit. *fn4" Those which now house two inmates vary in size from a little less than 115 square feet to almost 123 square feet. Each contains two beds, both resting on the floor on adjoining walls to form a right angle; one fluorescent light over both beds, one incandescent light over a sink and open toilet, and two night stands. There is a shelf, approximately 2feet X 8inch, placed on the wall about six feet off the floor. Under the shelf are two large plastic hooks suitable for hanging clothing. The inmates in this unit, the "cadre," are sentenced prisoners assigned to serve their terms at the MCC. They are not locked in their rooms at night, many of them having night work assignments.

 Respondents cling zealously to the locution that the rooms in the MCC were originally "designated" - not "designed" - for occupancy by a single person. In this formulation, "designated" is meant evidently to denote a kind of optional, discretionary, changeable classification. A room "designated" to hold one person, the thought seems to run, may as easily be "designated" at some other time to hold two. The thought, it must be said, is not pursued beyond two, though it might readily be if linguistics were our only or primary concern.

 The decisive reality, however, not seriously open to debate, is that the rooms were designed and built to hold a single person, not more. The conclusion is compelled by an array of undisputed facts. To begin with, petitioners invoke the high authority of the architect who designed the MCC and who, in sworn testimony recorded in this court, has described a room like the ones he drew, housing one inmate, as a "very basic planning principle." Contrasting dormitories with rooms, he went on to say:

 "Dormitories are a much more flexible kind of a thing, you see. That is the only real area in that particular facility. One of the reasons why there's been a tendency to go to single rooms is because it's a very clear and apparent violation of capacity when you try to put two people in a room. You can't put one and a third persons in a room. You can always up the population of a space, in which you put people in, and you can through more imaginative planning get better utilization of the space but there is an absoluteness of a room which is designed for one person, and to try to convert it into a two-person room, it's a clear violation of the capability of that space. There is no question there. There is more than enough, you know, objections to doublecelling." *fn5"

 It is not necessary by any means to rely solely on what the architect said; the plain visual evidence of what he did demonstrates that the rooms he designed were for one inmate, not two or more. There is no place for each of two people, assigned by others to this unwanted intimacy, to walk or eat or write a letter or be quiet or be outside another's toilet. There is one shelf for toiletries and one for other things, neither adequate for two people. In the larger group of 100 double-celled rooms there is no place to hang a garment. The double-decker bunks by which these rooms have been changed from singles are so constructed that air from a vent, cold during our winter visit, blows out onto the upper bed a foot or so above body level. Many of the prisoners have blocked the vents to cope with this architecturally unintended unpleasantness. And, as a result the rooms are musty and unpleasant smelling. The single beds originally designed for these rooms each had two drawers built under them, mounted on casters for reasonably convenient use. In the reconstruction to house two inmates, it was found necessary to dismantle these caster arrangements; now each "double" room has one of the old drawers lying loose under the lower bed or none at all for the two assigned occupants.

 As the units of formerly single rooms are doubled in occupancy, the multipurpose area for each overall unit displays oppressive consequences. Designed for use by the allotted number of single room occupants, the multipurpose rooms become congested, noisy, unworkable for their intended uses. The recreational equipment, never excessive, is less sufficient. The eating tables are, obviously, less adequate. There is more pressure to eat in the cell, with its single chair, open toilet, and unselected companion.

 Taking all the facts together, the court concludes that this case is controlled by the principles of Detainees of Brooklyn House of Detention v. Malcolm, 520 F.2d 392 (2d Cir. 1975), and a growing list of decisions condemning double celling as unconstitutional. See also Benjamin v. Malcolm, 75 Civ. 3073 (S.D.N.Y. May 10, 1976); Ambrose v. Malcolm, 414 F. Supp. 485, (S.D.N.Y.1976); Inmates of Suffolk County Jail v. Eisenstadt, 360 F. Supp. 676 (D.Mass. 1973), aff'd, 494 F.2d 1196 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 977, 95 S. Ct. 239, 42 L. Ed. 2d 189 (1974); Wayne County Jail Inmates v. Wayne County Bd. of Comm'rs, Civ. Action No. 173217 (Cir. Ct. Wayne, Co., Mich. July 28, 1972, and May 25, 1971), aff'd and remanded 391 Mich. 359, 216 N.W.2d 910 (1974); Commonwealth ex rel. Bryant v. Hendrick, 444 Pa. 83, 280 A.2d 110 (1971). There are, of course, factual differences among the cases. The larger group of rooms involved here, the ones with 75 to 77 square feet, are substantially more spacious than those in Detainees, though smaller, it appears, than those in Inmates of Suffolk County Jail v. Eisenstadt, supra (88 square feet). The inmates in the MCC (except for the small cadre of sentenced prisoners who, perhaps oddly, have more freedom than those awaiting trial) are confined to their rooms for shorter periods, some 7 1/2 hours or so daily plus periods of head counts, as against the 14 to 16 daily hours in Detainees, though the impact on multipurpose rooms in this case diminishes the difference. *fn6" The average length of incarceration at the MCC (varying by category of inmate) is between 23 and 65 days, while that in Detainees was 16 weeks. The MCC is a far more modern and better decorated building than that involved in Detainees. The cells in MCC have doors instead of bars, and the common areas are carpeted. All of the residential rooms (with the ...


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