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BENJAMIN v. JACOBSON

April 15, 1996

JAMES BENJAMIN, et al., Plaintiff, against MICHAEL P. JACOBSON, et al., Defendants and related cases.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BAER

 HAROLD BAER, JR., District Judge:

 Defendants have moved for a temporary suspension of Paragraph U of the Consent Decrees in this action relating to the provision of law library services to inmates in the Central Punitive Segregation Unit ("CPSU") on Rikers Island. I reserved decision on this motion pending receipt of records of infractions at the CPSU library and other submissions by the parties. So far, since the CPSU was moved to the Otis Bantum Correctional Center ("OBCC") on March 9-10, 1996, there have already been eleven infractions either at the congregate library or en route to or from the library. Several of the incidents have been brutal slashings and beatings that have sent both inmates and correction officers to the hospital for treatment. I now find it is clearly in the public interest to stop this violence. Accordingly, defendants' motion is granted.

 I. Background

 This motion for temporary suspension of the law library provisions is part of a larger motion brought by defendants to seek relief from several of the provisions of the Consent Decrees. The CPSU law library issue was singled out for expedited consideration in an effort to resolve the problem before the segregated inmates were moved to OBCC. See Declaration of Lorna B. Goodman dated March 20, 1996 P 5. Because the motion was not decided by March 9, the defendants have been providing law library services in a congregate facility as mandated by the current Consent Decrees. See id. P 4.

 This motion was made originally based on a record of violence associated with the CPSU law library services. When the defendants first moved for this modification they stated:

 
In the first nine months of 1995, 11 CPSU inmates were slashed or stabbed in separate incidents during law library sessions, or during transport to or from such sessions. During that same period, 23 CPSU inmates were found guilty of 26 charges of either assaulting or fighting with staff or other inmates during law library sessions or while travelling to or from the law library. Numerous others were found guilty of carrying contraband weapons or of disrupting law library services by boisterous or threatening behavior.

 Def. Mem. at 50 n.58. In response, plaintiffs argued that the move to OBCC, where inmates with a history of violent infractions would be held in rooms outside of the congregate library area, could potentially reduce the level of violence. Pl. Mem. at 36. I agreed with this logic and decided to give the new facility a thirty day test period. I have seen enough.

 As this section will detail, since March 9 the violence, which plaintiffs suggested would subside, has escalated dramatically. Rather than wait the thirty days, I called the parties in on April 11, 1996 to discuss what had transpired. I set this forth in some detail to demonstrate that in my view there has been an unacceptable amount of violence.

 On March 12, several inmates *fn1" were involved in an altercation while travelling from the law library to their cells. The incident started when the inmates charged another inmate working at the OBCC. One inmate removed his handcuffs and hit a corrections officer with them, fracturing his nose. The staff on hand as well as two probe teams in riot gear were required to restrain the inmates. In the end, approximately ten correction staff were injured and the inmate also required medical attention. See Supplemental Declaration of Deputy Warden Clyton Eastmond dated March 28, 1996 P 4 ("Eastmond Decl."). On March 19, one inmate assaulted another while inside the congregate area of the law library. The first inmate had been released form his handcuffs and punched the other, who was still restrained, several times in the face. See id. P 5.

 There were also two incidents on March 23. In the first, two inmates attacked a third in the congregate library area. While one restrained the victim, the other slashed him. See Eastmond Decl. P 8. Approximately fifteen minutes after the first incident, as the inmates were walking to their cells, five inmates became "uncooperative and unruly." The correction staff was required to push the inmates towards their housing area. As a result of the incident, four corrections officers were injured, two requiring medical attention. See id. P 9.

 On March 28, an inmate refused to be handcuffed and resisted the correction staff. See Kerr Supp. Decl., at P 31. On March 29, another inmate acted in "a hostile manner" during a search and a corrections officer sprayed him with a chemical agent in order to restrain him. See id. P 32. While these last incidents were relatively minor, it is important to remember that the staff facing such resistance does not know if the incident will escalate and must react accordingly. Such disturbances can only add to the physical and emotional stress endured by the correction staff. See Eastmond Decl., at P 11.

 Also on March 29, an inmate slashed another inmate in the law library with a nail. The injured inmate suffered cuts on his ear, scalp and hand. See Supplemental Declaration of Lorna B. Goodman dated April 11, 1996, Ex. B. Finally, on April 9, there were two more incidents. In the first, an inmate assaulted a corrections officer as he was being led out of the library in handcuffs. See id. P 2. The inmate verbally abused the officer, pushed him against the wall and kicked him in the thigh. In response, the officer punched the inmate in the face. See id. Ex. A. In the second ...


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