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GRIFFIN v. COUGHLIN

August 24, 1990

JOSEPH GRIFFIN, JAMES HAUSER, AND DONALD ORR, PROTECTIVE CUSTODY INMATES OF CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, CHARLES WARD, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL HOUSING AND INMATE DISCIPLINE PROGRAMS, EUGENE S. LEFEVRE, SUPERINTENDENT, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, AND RAMON RODRIGUEZ, CHAIRMAN OF THE NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF PAROLE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Munson, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs in this case are individuals who have been (since December of 1987, when a class was certified), are, or will be housed in the Protective Custody ("PC") unit of Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"). This case was filed in 1983 and is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to remedy allegedly unconstitutional conditions at the Clinton PC.

The plaintiffs' second amended complaint states five causes of action. First, they allege that the conditions of confinement constitute violations of the eighth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that the following conditions exist and that they violate the eighth amendment: prolonged cell confinement and idleness; severely limited opportunities for recreation, exercise, education and work; seriously inadequate access to legal assistance, including the institutional law library; denial of either communal religious services, or private consultations with religious advisors; the pervasive fear of being harmed, because of defendants' failure to protect PC inmates; inadequate safety and screening procedures.

The second cause of action alleges an equal protection violation. Plaintiffs allege that the inmates at PC units in Green Haven, Great Meadow, Auburn and Attica are generally afforded greater recreational and programming opportunities than inmates in the Clinton PC. The third cause of action alleges that the defendants place an undue burden on the plaintiffs' assertion of their right to be free from harm and accordingly violate plaintiffs' eighth amendment rights. In essence plaintiffs allege that the conditions are so restrictive at Clinton PC that inmates will be discouraged from seeking protective custody.

In their fourth cause of action, plaintiffs allege that the defendants have failed to provide the PC inmates adequate protection from harm. This, too, plaintiffs contend constitutes a violation of their eighth amendment rights. Finally, the fifth cause of action alleges that the defendants violate plaintiffs' rights under the free exercise clause. As a basis for this claim, plaintiffs contend that they are denied access to regular and confidential religious counseling, sacraments, and services.

I. THE PARTIES' STIPULATIONS.

A non-jury trial on plaintiffs claims was held from September 19, 1988 through September 23, 1988 in Auburn, New York.*fn1 Prior to trial, the parties presented the court with 14 itemized stipulations of fact. These are reproduced below. (The footnotes to these stipulations are the court's additional explanations and are not part of the parties' stipulations.)

    1. Protective custody at Clinton Correctional
  Facility is housed in that institution's E Block.
    2. E Block is composed of seven companies*fn2,
  each containing 21 cells. Companies one through
  five are on the south side of the block, with one
  at the bottom and five at the top. Companies six
  and seven are on the north side of the block,
  directly across (respectively from four and five
  company).*fn3
    3. One and six companies have "flat" galleries,
  which run from the cell bars to the block walls.
  All other companies have "open" galleries,
  running only part of the way [to the block walls]
  (roughly four feet) from the cell bars.*fn4
    4. All cell blocks in Clinton contain open
  galleries on other than the lowest company
  blocks.
    5. There are no meeting rooms or offices in E
  block. Aside from the company cells and
  galleries, the only other available space is the
  area known as the "landing," in front of each
  tier of cells.
    6. PC is currently located on companies one
  through four of E block.*fn5 Company four is
  involuntary PC, and the other three companies are
  voluntary.
    7. Non-keeplocked PC inmates receive 2 hours
  daily recreation in the E block yard. Until
  September 5, 1988 they were receiving 1 1/2 hours
  daily recreation. Voluntary PC and involuntary PC
  inmates are recreated separately.

8. PC inmates eat their meals in their cells.

    9. PC inmates may obtain two legal books a day.
  This is done by filling out request slips to the
  facility law library.
    10. PC inmates do not go to the law library, or
  meet with inmate law clerks. Photocopying is
  available, and inmates can make written requests
  to the law clerks for assistance.
    11. PC has no congregate religious services.
  Inmates can make requests to meet with religious
  advisors; such meetings usually occur at the
  inmate's cell.
    12. PC inmates are taken to the facility
  commissary every two weeks. They receive the same
  commissary privileges as general population
  inmates.
    13. PC inmates are allowed daily visitation and
  participation in the family reunion program.
    14. Employment for PC inmates consists of
  roughly half a dozen porter positions, one art
  instructor, one barber, one inmate tutor, and an
  inmate librarian.

From this point on, the court will address the facts which relate to each particular claim in the discussion which relates to that claim. In general, the court observes — and as the stipulation recited above illustrates — there was little dispute at trial regarding the conditions under which plaintiffs reside in Clinton PC. At the core of many of the disputes in the present action is a debate regarding the manner in which the resources available to the Clinton Correctional Facility should be allocated. Plaintiffs implicitly contend that they suffer to benefit other inmates at Clinton.

II. CONDITIONS AT CLINTON PC; EQUAL PROTECTION.

A facially appealing argument raised by plaintiffs at trial relates to denial of equal protection under the law. U.S. Const., amend. XIV. Plaintiffs contrasted their situation with those of inmates in other PC units in the state and with inmates in special programs at Clinton itself. Plaintiffs pointed to discrepancies and claimed that the corrections officials have no rational basis for continuing the discrepancies. At trial, the court received the distinct impression that PC inmates feel as though they are second class citizens. Certainly, plaintiffs' griping is well-founded in fact; the question is whether the disparity of treatment is unjustified, or rises to a level for which the court should order remedial action.

The protective custody unit at Clinton functions to protect inmates who cannot remain in the general prison population.*fn6 Inmates housed in PC run the gamut from victims to the victimizers. Consequently, it is not surprising that some of the inmates at Clinton PC are placed in protective custody even though they do not request the placement. These inmates reside in, what is referred to as, Involuntary Protective Custody ("IPC"). Inmates are only transferred to IPC following a due process hearing.

As the stipulation recited above indicates, plaintiffs spend much time in their cells. They are accorded two hours of recreational time in the E Block yard, a yard which is only accessible through E Block. Meals are served to plaintiffs in their cells. They have no out-of-cell formal programming. For instance, plaintiffs have an in-cell study program, but not an out-of-cell study program. Plaintiffs may not leave E Block to participate in congregate religious services. PC inmates do not have access to a law library. They may order books from the facility's law library, but may only order two books a day. PC inmates may not order Shepards.

PC inmates are given certain privileges. They may visit the prison commissary twice a month. They can shower two or three times a week; naturally, that is outside the cell block. Furthermore, they may use prison telephones daily and have unlimited contact visits. PC inmates may view a TV in their yard when they are exercising in the yard. The yard also houses what might best be described as a book and game shack. Books are rotated in and out of the shack every two months. Games such as chess and checkers are kept there, as well as two baseball mitts, a football, a softball, and a basketball.

By way of contrast to the conditions of confinement in Clinton PC, plaintiffs (and defendants) introduced evidence regarding other specialized programs at Clinton. Clinton houses a program, state-wide in scope, known as the Assessment Program Preparedness Unit ("APPU"). APPU in many ways is similar in its goals to PC. In fact, one purpose of the APPU program is to provide an alternative to PC. In essence, APPU takes victim-prone inmates and attempts to prepare them for return to general prison population. APPU inmates may attend congregate religious services. APPU facilities and programs include a vocational handicraft shop, a general drafting shop, therapy sessions, counseling sessions, a small law library, and a number of educational services ranging from basic adult education to high school equivalency. Inmates who are enrolled in APPU may use the mess hall and the gym.

The testimony of William Burke, Supervisor of APPU, revealed that there is a waiting list of inmates who wish to participate in the APPU program. Furthermore, Burke testified that the screening process for each APPU applicant lasts approximately three to four months. By comparison, the length of time for a screening prior to entering Clinton PC ranges from minutes to a day or two. Transcript ("Tr.") 496. Ideally Clinton PC is a place of transience. In accordance with this philosophy, a majority of the inmates in Clinton PC transfer out of that unit in 75 days or less.*fn7 However, a smaller percentage of inmates remain in Clinton PC for more than six months. Supra note 7.

Plaintiffs and, as a result, defendants also compared Clinton PC to the Merle Cooper program at Clinton. The Merle Cooper program is primarily geared towards inmates who have committed sexual offenses. It evolved from a program which targeted repeat offenders and inmates with lengthy prison sentences. The Merle Cooper program is housed in the Clinton Annex which is the old Dannemora State Hospital. Inmates in the Merle Cooper program are granted the following amenities: wood shop; gym; movies; cooking facilities; refrigerators; color television; communication meetings and group therapy.

Additionally, plaintiffs compared living conditions at Clinton PC with the conditions of the inmates in the intermediate care program ("ICP"). ICP is a mental hygiene program with two stated purposes: to ease mental patients back into general population or to house such inmates for a long period of time. ICP inmates are quartered in the same cell block as PC inmates, E Block. ICP inmates reside, however, on the north side of the block which is composed of only two companies, 6 and 7. IPC inmates are afforded gallery recreation on the flat in front of Company 6; furthermore they have a TV on the flat as well. As indicated above, PC inmates are not permitted gallery recreation and their TV is in the E Block yard.

Finally, plaintiffs rest on the following contrast between Clinton PC and the protective custody units in other New York State correctional facilities. At Sing-Sing the PC inmates enjoy 6 hours outside their cells; at Green Haven the amount of out-of-cell time is 5 hours; at Great Meadow PC inmates receive 2 1/2 hours recreation plus two communal meals; at Auburn they receive 3 1/4 hours of gallery recreation, plus outdoor recreation; at Sullivan the PC inmates receive 10 hours of gallery recreation.

The appropriate analysis for an equal protection claim is whether the unequal treatment bears a reasonable relationship to legitimate penalogical interests.*fn8 Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 574-75 (2d Cir. 1990); Langone v. Coughlin, 712 F. Supp. 1061, 1066 (N.D.N.Y. 1989) (McCurn, C.J.); see Williams v. Lane, 851 F.2d 867, 881 (7th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1047, 109 S.Ct. 879, 102 L.Ed.2d 1001 (1989) (determining whether or not inmates' guarantee of equal protection under the law was violated by considering whether the "[u]nequal treatment . . . is justified [by] a rational relation to legitimate penal interest[s]"). In evaluating plaintiffs' equal protection claim, this court will apply the four factors set forth in the Supreme Court's decision in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). See Benjamin, 905 F.2d at 574-75. First, there must be a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it. The second inquiry is whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates. Third, the court must assess the impact that accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally. Fourth, the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the reasonableness of a prison regulation. 482 U.S. at 89-90, 107 S.Ct. at 2261-62. Finally, a recent decision by the Second Circuit has established that plaintiffs bear the burden of showing irrationality in the justifications put forward by defendants for disparate treatment. See Fromer v. Scully, 874 F.2d 69, 74 (2d Cir. 1989).

During trial the defendants articulated fiscal concerns, safety and security concerns, and concerns of institutional order as those concerns which prompted them to limit the number of activities available to inmates in Clinton PC. See Tr. 391-95; 575. These are legitimate concerns for defendants to act upon. Turner, 482 U.S. at 91, 107 S.Ct. at 2262; O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 350, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 2405, 96 L.Ed.2d 282 (1987); Martinelli v. Dugger, 817 F.2d 1499, 1506-07 (11th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1012, 108 S.Ct. 714, 98 L.Ed.2d 664 (1988); Hendrix v. Evans, 715 F. Supp. 897, 913 (N.D.Ind. 1989); Langone, 712 F. Supp. at 1066 n. 6. In specific, the Superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility, defendant Eugene S. LeFevre, testified that he was concerned with the safety and the security of PC inmates. Tr. 399. Because the plaintiffs are in protective custody, he desired to minimize their exposure to the outside general prison population. Tr. 391. In addition, he was concerned that granting the plaintiffs more privileges would impede the activities of the general prison population. Tr. 393. Finally, LeFevre expressed a financial concern that providing plaintiffs with more activities and greater availability of prison resources would require him to reallocate staff and funds in a manner which would not be cost-effective. Tr. 394, 408.

As they must, plaintiffs contend that defendants' justifications are irrational. They raise several contentions. First, plaintiffs claim that the justifications for minimal outdoor recreation are irrational because the PC inmates received a 1/2 hour increase in recreation just before trial commenced. They complain that "it took [LeFevre's] administration six years to increase recreation time, even though the increase did not necessitate any change in security staffing." Plaintiffs' Post-Trial Memorandum, Doc. 177, at 10 (emphasis in original). In the court's interpretation of events, the increase may indicate that the earlier allotment of time for outdoor recreation was irrational. However, plaintiffs only seek injunctive relief with respect to the present situation. The fact that the outdoor recreation time was increased, if anything, lessens the need for injunctive relief at the present.

Plaintiffs also point out that Clinton PC inmates used to enjoy in-door recreation on the "flats." Superintendent LeFevre justified taking away the in-door recreation because, after the formation of APPU, the composition of the inmates in PC changed for the worse. Tr. 398, 418. In-door recreation became more risky. Plaintiffs attack this justification on two grounds. They claim it was rendered in too conclusory a fashion. Plaintiffs' Post-Trial Memorandum, Doc. 177, at 9. However, in claiming that LeFevre's explanation is too conclusory, plaintiffs are inappropriately attempting to transfer to defendants the burden of explaining the rationality of a justification. Furthermore, LeFevre is an individual who has a longstanding knowledge of Clinton. He made and maintained the changes with respect to in-door recreation on account of discussions with his staff. At trial, plaintiffs did not demonstrate that LeFevre was expressing an opinion not based upon his personal knowledge.

Plaintiffs cite as a second ground for disbelieving LeFevre's justification the fact that every other maximum security unit in the state permits in-door recreation. Plaintiffs' contention is unconvincing. As LeFevre testified, Clinton presents a unique situation. It has open galleries enclosed only with screening. Objects such as bits of glass or urine and feces can be thrown through the screening from an upper gallery onto the flat. Tr. 164, 185-86, 302, 422. LeFevre testified that in Attica Correctional Facility the galleries were not open as they are at Clinton. Thus, in-door recreation in Attica could be safer. Tr. 418-20. Moreover, the Supreme Court has cautioned that "the Constitution `does not mandate a "lowest common denominator" security standard, whereby a practice permitted at one penal institution must be permitted by all.'" Turner, 482 at 95 n. *, 107 S.Ct. at 2265 n. * (citation omitted); Fromer, 874 F.2d at 74-75; see also Moss v. Clark, 886 F.2d 686, 691 (4th Cir. 1989). In this instance, the court declines to impose a lowest common denominator to be imposed on maximum security protective custody units.

Plaintiffs next argue that LeFevre has a 45 million dollar budget at his disposal each year and that from this budget he should be able to increase the PC staffing and add activities for PC inmates. They point to the fact that Clinton maintains a resource pool of 50 corrections officers and that numerous other staffing positions were added recently. This argument, relating to the size of Clinton's budget, fails for at least two reasons. Plaintiffs ask the court to make decisions regarding how defendant LeFevre should allocate the Clinton budget. They, in effect, encourage the court to become a super-superintendent of Clinton Correctional Facility. The court is immediately hesitant to accept this invitation — and will not — because to do so would not accord proper deference to the defendants "who are actually charged with and trained in the running of the particular institution under examination." O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349, 107 S.Ct. at 2404; Fromer, 874 F.2d at 73; Hendrix, 715 F. Supp. at 914. In any event, the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the money available to LeFevre is not rationally allocated at the present. They merely rest their argument on the size of his budget and the size of the staff which he supervises.

In addition, there was evidence that a staff change favorable to Clinton PC occurred in 1986. Prior to that date, one sergeant supervised cell blocks C, D, and E. From 1986 to the present one sergeant as his sole responsibility was given E Block, the cell block which houses Clinton PC. The E Block sergeant, next to the sergeant who supervises the special housing unit, has the smallest area to oversee of any sergeant at Clinton. Tr. 369. In this particular, Clinton PC inmates are treated more favorably than most other inmates at Clinton.*fn9 All told, the court declines to adopt plaintiffs' argument that the size of the budget, the number of staff, and the allocation of both at Clinton demonstrate an irrational animosity towards Clinton PC inmates.*fn10

Even so, another rationale given by LeFevre related to the transience of the population at PC. He stated that "given the short duration of inmates staying in that program, there's a real question of whether that would be a cost-effective program as far as the additional staff, both program and security." Tr. 408. He believed additional programming would not be cost-effective when the entire demands of the facility were taken into consideration. Id.

Plaintiffs cannot, on the whole, deny that the PC population is transient. Supra note 7 In fact, the percentage of inmates staying for more than 180 days in 1988, 2%, is down from the percentage staying for more than 180 days in 1987, 14%.*fn11 Id. Thus, the PC population in 1988 was more transient than it was in 1987. No one can deny that moving PC inmates out earlier is a positive step; indeed, it is LeFevre's goal to minimize time in PC. Tr. 434. Yet, this is a trend not expressly recognized by plaintiffs in their post-trial submissions. The court finds that plaintiffs have not demonstrated the irrationality of LeFevre's concerns regarding the cost-effectiveness of additional programming for Clinton PC. Cf. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 543, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1876, 60 ...


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