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ALBRO v. COUNTY OF ONONDAGA

January 31, 1986

RONALD ALBRO, MICHAEL CARPENTER, NEIL EPSTEIN AND HAROLD WARNER, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE COUNTY OF ONONDAGA, NEW YORK, SHERIFF OF ONONDAGA COUNTY, MARIO M. CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AND THOMAS A COUGHLIN, III, COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, STATE OF NEW YORK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUNSON

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

HOWARD G. MUNSON, C.J.

Not at all unique in the New York state prison system, the Onondaga county jail, known as the Public Safety Building ["PSB"] is overcrowded. It has been operating in excess of capacity consistently since May 1984 and there is no anticipated decrease in the near future. Plaintiffs commenced this action on October 25, 1985 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of all persons incarcerated at the PSB alleging that the overcrowded conditions under which the inmates are detained are intolerable and inhumane Plaintiffs allege violations of their rights protected by the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, the Constitution or the state of New York and New York statutes and regulations. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief and a preliminary injunction restraining defendants from exceeding the rated capacity of the PSB and otherwise incarcerating plaintiffs under unconstitutional conditions. A hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction was held on October 31 and November 1, 1985.

 This court certified the plaintiff class on November 21 under Rule 23(b), Fed. R. Civ. P., of "all persons who are or will be incarcerated during the pendency of this action at the PSB jail"; this class includes both pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates. Plaintiffs allege that the pre-trial detainees are subjected to punishment in violation of the fourteenth amendment and sentenced inmates are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment. Plaintiffs also allege that all inmates are deprived of their rights secured by the N.Y. Constitution Art. I § 6.

 Plaintiffs' complaint names as defendants the County of Onondaga and the Sheriff of Onondaga County under whose auspices the PSB is operated. *fn1" The defendants moved to join the Governor of New York and the Commissioner of the New York Department of Correctional Services as additional defendants. The motion was granted to allow the state to participate in the hearing for a preliminary injunction subject to a motion for reconsideration after the hearing. The state defendants have now moved this court to vacate the court's order of joinder of the state.

 I.

 The PSB jail has a maximum capacity of 212 inmates as rated by the New York State Commission of Corrections and as acknowledged by all of the parties in this action. There are 202 cells and one dormitory designed to house 10 inmates. Beginning in July 1983, the population has repeatedly exceeded the maximum capacity; since May 1984 to the present, the monthly average population counts reveal that the PSB jail has been consistently over capacity. These monthly averages as recorded by the jail administrators indicate that between May 1984 and the dates of the hearing, the population has fluctuated from between 2.4% to 31.1% over capacity. In the most recent months prior to the hearing, July 1985 to October 1985, the inmate population count has exceeded the maximum capacity by 19% to 26% representing an excess population of between 40 and 55 inmates.

 The PSB jail has four housing floors. Each of the floors 2 through 5 has 2 long cell blocks (cell blocks A and B) and 2 short cell blocks (C and D) with the exception of cell block 5C Which is the dormitory. The inmates for which there is no cell space when the population exceeds 212 are housed in the corridor in front of the cells. These corridors run the length of the front of the cells and are 5 to 10 feet in width. *fn2" Up until October 30, 1985, the inmates housed in the corridors slept on mattresses on the floor. In the late afternoon of the day before the start of the hearing, the jail obtained cots from the county morgue. With the cots obtained from the morgue and a few others assembled from parts, there were 25 cots for use at the jail. So on the first day of the hearing most of the inmates housed in the corridors had cots on which to sleep. However, not all of the inmates were off of the floor because the population count was greater than 25 in excess of capacity. *fn3"

 The number of persons housed in each of the corridors varies as the population fluctuates. At times up to 27 inmates have been housed on a long corridor and up to 9 on a short corridor. These inmates have no place to secure their personal belongings. All of the inmates in one corridor share one toilet. During the periods called "lock-out" in which inmates are locked out of their cells, all Of the inmates are in the corrider and must share one bathroom Which is a cell kept vacant for common use. There are no dayrooms in the PSB. The inmates spend virtually all of their time in their cells or in the corridors including meals served to them there. At the time of the hearing, there was no physical recreation available to the inmates; the PSB roof was being repaired and to hasten the process, the gymnasium on the roof for the use of the inmates was used as a "staging area" for the construction, thereby making it unavailable to the PSB inmates.

 The PSB obtained a variance from the Department of Corrections to suspend provision of the required hour of physical exercise per day. To be relieved temporarily from this requirement, the PSB was to substitute passive recreation. It appears that this was not done. Chief Jail Deputy Charles Pirro employed by the Sheriff's Department with responsibility for running the PSB, testified that movies were shown in the chapel but could recall only one having been shown to some but not all of the inmates within the preceeding few months. Plaintiff Albro testified that he had been offered the opportunity to see two movies since he was admitted to the PSB jail on June 18, 1985. Passive recreation available to the inmates on the cell blocks consists of radio, television, cards, chess, checkers, letter writing, and reading. The inmates are permitted to leave the cell blocks to see visitors, attend religious services in the chapel, make telephone calls, appear in court, use the law library, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and G.E.D. classes and to visit the medical facility.

 One result of the overcrowding has been the inability of the jail to segregate inmates appropriately. *fn4" Particularly acute in this regard has been the practice of housing inmates in the corridor of cell block 2A where the mentally unstable inmates are housed. Plaintiffs testified that inmates housed in the corridor of 2A were often targets for human feces and urine thrown by the persons housed in the cells. In addition, security and safety problems arose from the jail's failure to house pre-trial detainees separate from sentenced inmates. Plaintiffs testified that the sentenced inmates "had nothing to lose" thereby exacerbating incidents of fighting, theft and extortion as against the pre-trial detainees who hesitated to defend themselves out of fear that additional charges would be brought against them.

 Plaintiffs testified to the tense atmosphere caused by the close quarters in which the inmates were housed--that the high frequency of fights over minor items resulted from the tension. Security problems were increased due to the group sleeping arrangements in the corridors. Also, the inmates in the corridors had access to the individual cells.

 Security provided by the deputy sheriffs is deficient. At the time of the hearing, the jail had the authority to fill 171 slots though only 151 were presently filled. Chief pirro testified that he was unable to fill the vacant positions because he was required to hire persons from a civil service list which list had been depleted and he would have to await the results of the previously-administered civil service examination. There was also testimony that some of the 151 persons who were due to retire shortly were abusing their sick leave privileges because the recently-negotiated change in the retirement system allows retirees to accumulate only a limited amount of unused sick leave time. Therefore some of the deputies due to retire shortly were calling in sick. Additionally Chief Pirro testified that there was an unusually high incidence of medical problems among the deputies resulting in their absence from work.

 Dirome Williamson, Correction Facility Review Specialist for the State Commission of Correction, testified as to his most recent inspection of the PSB jail on September 11, 1985. Though his presence and purpose were known to the jail administrators a the time of his visit, Williamson noted that the deputies failed to make the required number of rounds of the cell blocks. There was testimony of fights breaking out which were not promptly controlled by the deputies because they were not readily available on the cell blocks. When a fight broke out, plaintiff testified that the inmates had to yell for a guard to come into the cell block to break up a fight. In addition to the increase security problem created by housing inmates in the corridors, there ...


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