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BENJAMIN v. MALCOLM

August 27, 1980

James BENJAMIN, Miguel Galindez, Bruce Hayes, Jose Saldana and Robert Eschert, detainees of the New York City House of Detention for Men, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Benjamin J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Correction of the City of New York; Arthur Rubin, Warden, New York City House of Detention for Men; Gerard Brown, Deputy Warden, New York City House of Detention for Men; and Abraham D. Beame, Mayor of the City of New York, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER

The House of Detention for Men on Rikers Island (HDM) is presently the exclusive *fn1" facility used for pre-trial detention of men who are charged with crimes occurring in New York County. HDM is adjoined by and connected to two other facilities for detention of men known, respectively, as C71 and C95. Collectively they are referred to below as "the Complex." In June 1975, this civil rights suit was instituted on behalf of all pre-trial detainees at HDM. The complaint alleges that the conditions under which the plaintiffs are held are constitutionally impermissible. Trial began in October 1976 and was concluded in the Spring of 1977.

In January 1978, a new mayoral administration book office in New York City. In contrast to its predecessor its policy was to dispose of the issues raised in this litigation (and a number of other cases which attacked conditions in other city detention facilities) by negotiation or settlement if possible. Accordingly, the parties requested that the court withhold determination of the issues then pending. An order incorporating their agreement to negotiate was entered March 2, 1978.

 Thereafter, and apart from this suit, the City and the State of New York began discussions for the lease of Rikers Island to the State. On September 28, 1979, the parties to this suit entered into a "Stipulation for Entry of an Order," the relevant terms of which provided that a purpose of the Stipulation was "to secure plaintiffs' rights to be housed under constitutional conditions." The Stipulation specified alternate dispositions of the case depending on whether the lease of Rikers Island to the State materialized. That lease has failed of consummation, and accordingly the now operative terms of the Stipulation provide that:

 
"4. In the event that an agreement for the transfer of the detention facilities on Rikers Island to the State is not concluded by December 1, 1979:
 
b. The parties agree that the Court may proceed to the entry of judgment which contains the appropriate remedies for the conditions described by the facts agreed upon below, in subparagraph c;
 
c. To that end, the parties agree:
 
(1) that the record in Benjamin v. Malcolm established plaintiffs' factual claim that, at the time of trial,
 
f. The housing blocks at HDM and the institution at large were overpopulated; such overpopulation resulted in an atmosphere of tension and hostility, a strain on all of the institution's facilities, and interference with supervision, protection and provision of services to members of the plaintiff class.
 
(2) Plaintiffs are entitled, as a matter of law, to the entry of a judgment remedying the conditions described in paragraph (1) above;
 
(3) That plaintiffs reserve the right to litigate the issue of the appropriate remedy for the conditions described in paragraph (1), prior to the entry of judgment, and to contest, on appeal, the specific terms of any final remedy ordered by the Court."

 The plaintiffs now move for a judgment "granting relief for unconstitutional overcrowding" at HDM and ask that the City be required to reduce the facility's population to 1,000. *fn2"

 I

 The plaintiffs contend that since the City conceded by the 1978 Stipulation and Order that HDM was constitutionally overcrowded at the time of the 1976 trial, and since the population is higher today than it was then, the plaintiffs are, by the terms of the Stipulation, automatically "entitled, as a matter of law, to the entry of a judgment remedying the conditions" at hand, and that the sole issue before the court is what the remedy should be.

 They recite a long history of studies of HDM by public and quasi public bodies, all of which have concluded that HDM has been dangerously overcrowded for years and have recommended that its population be stringently reduced. For example, in June 1975, the Board of Correction of New York City-the body established by law as a watchdog of conditions in City jails-issued a report, detailing the problems which then resulted from overcrowding at HDM and concluded that "excessive over crowding creating an environment that is in a perpetual state of emergency" was a major cause of increased tensions. (Board of Correction Report on the New York City House of Detention for Men, June 1975).

 The Board's analysis was proven too truly correct when in the fall of 1975, a major riot occurred at HDM causing millions of dollars of physical damage and endangering the lives of several Correction officers who were taken as hostages. In reporting to the then Mayor on the riot, the Commissioner of Correction stated that "perhaps the most singularly causative factor in the House of Detention for Men's explosion was overcrowding coupled with staff shortages and the delay in processing inmates for trial."

 In a "Staff Report of the State Commission of Correction," dated March 30, 1977, it was concluded (at pp. 50-51) that when the institutional population exceeds 1,000 "racial tension and interpersonal problems begin to develop." The State Commission of Correction is charged by statute to "(promulgate) rules and regulations establishing minimum standards for the care (and) custody . . . for all persons confined in correctional facilities," N.Y.Correc.Law § 45(6) (McKinney Cum.Supp.1979-1980), and has the responsibility to "(c)lose any correctional facility which is unsafe, ...


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