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VAZQUEZ v. GRAY

October 16, 1981

Jose VAZQUEZ, Ralph Scott, Anthony Prentis, Allan Douglas, E. Agosto, James Lewis, Charles W. Allman, Gregory Diaz, Charles L. Hunt, and Michael Franklin, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Albert D. GRAY, Jr., Commissioner, Department of Correction, County of Westchester; Norwood E. Jackson, Warden, Westchester County Correctional Facilities; Joseph M. Stancari, Associate Warden, Westchester County Jail; Richard Hildreth, Senior Assistant Warden, Westchester County Jail; and Alfred B. Delbello, County Executive, County of Westchester, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOETTEL

The Westchester County Jail ("WCJ") is overcrowded. Everyone knows this the inmates, the corrections officers, the county officials and, in light of the riots that occurred at the jail in July of this year, even the public.

When the inmates commenced this action a few years ago, they complained about a number of aspects concerning the conditions at the jail. Since that time, and because of the riots, the focus of the action has been on the overcrowded conditions. *fn1" The plaintiffs presently seek a preliminary injunction enjoining various aspects of the overcrowding on the ground that the conditions existing at the WCJ violate the constitutional guidelines established by the Second Circuit in Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96 (2d Cir. 1981).

 To be entitled to a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs must make "a showing of possible irreparable injury and either (1) probable success on the merits or (2) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party requesting the preliminary relief." Caulfield v. Board of Education, 583 F.2d 605, 610 (2d Cir. 1978). See also Buffalo Courier-Express, Inc. v. Buffalo Evening News, Inc., 601 F.2d 48, 54 (2d Cir. 1979); Triebwasser & Katz v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 535 F.2d 1356, 1358 (2d Cir. 1976). There is little dispute that, at least on certain claims, the plaintiffs have shown probable success on the merits and, to the extent that their Fourteenth Amendment rights are being violated, irreparable injuries. A difference of opinion remains, however, as to the causes of the overcrowding at the WCJ and the appropriate steps to be taken in dealing with it.

 Present Conditions at the WCJ

 On September 28, 1981, the Court inspected the conditions at the WCJ, which is in Valhalla, New York, adjacent to the Westchester County Penitentiary. The penitentiary houses sentenced misdemeanants. The jail houses pretrial detainees on both felony and misdemeanor charges, as well as prisoners awaiting transportation to state prisons, persons awaiting sentencing, and persons classified as "fugitives" and "escapees." *fn2" There is a separate facility housing women prisoners in the area, but it is not involved in these proceedings. (Neither the women's unit nor the penitentiary was extensively involved in the July riot, which was, for the most part, confined to the jail.) In addition, the Department of Correction maintains its headquarters in the area and has certain training facilities there.

 The WCJ is designed to hold 263 pretrial detainees. On the date of the Court's inspection, there was a total of 413 inmates assigned to the jail. Only 301 of these, however, were in the jail proper, because some of the inmates were housed in the penitentiary. *fn3" (The pretrial detainees who are housed in the penitentiary are separated from the sentenced prisoners there.) In recent times, the number of assigned inmates has run as high as 460. There is also a tendency for the jail population to increase in the fall.

 The Court's inspection established that the following conditions exist at the jail:

 1. Two persons have been, on occasion, housed in a single occupancy cell of relatively small size by placing a mattress on the floor of the cell, on which one of the detainees must sleep. *fn4"

 2. Minors, ages 16 through 20, were housed four to a cell with two sets of double bunks. (These cells are called "civil cells" because they were once used for prisoners in civil cases.) Although these cells are somewhat larger than the single occupancy cells (104 square feet) and might be adequate for two prisoners, they are not designed to contain four persons. Considering permanent fixtures in each cell, only about 60 square feet of floor space remains for the four inmates. These cells are terribly overcrowded.

 3. The WCJ occasionally uses dayrooms as temporary housing for prisoners. These dayrooms are not equipped with toilet or sanitary facilities for multiple occupancy.

 4. Dormitories have been utilized that do not provide the state required space of 75 square foot per prisoner. *fn5"

 In addition to the crowded conditions of the cells, the jail has limited the inmates' access to dayrooms and recreational areas and has placed limitations on other privileges normally afforded to them. *fn6"

 The defendants concede, as plaintiffs allege, that the overcrowding places a strain on all of the defendants' facilities, including medical, food service, law library, and recreation. The defendants also concede that the overcrowding produces tensions and hostilities. They even concede that the overcrowding was a major cause of the recent costly disturbances. *fn7"

 The major difficulty presented to the Court by this case is fashioning suitable remedies for this particular facility. In the past, when federal district courts were confronted with overcrowded conditions in jails, the response was simply to set a population limit and leave to the prison officials the decisions as to how to meet these limits, thereby avoiding excessive intrusion by the courts into prison management. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547-48, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 1878-79, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979). As Judge Friendly noted in his ...


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