unpersuaded by City defendants' exhaustion argument. The Prison
Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110
Stat. 1321 (1996) does not require prospective plaintiffs to
avail themselves of the grievance procedure for issues outside
the jurisdiction of DOC. Resolution of plaintiffs' claims for
educational services falls beyond the powers of DOC and thus the
claims are not barred by the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.
Because the nature of relief sought by plaintiffs makes the
exhaustion requirement inapplicable in this case, the court need
not address the broader issue of whether the PLRA's exhaustion
requirement applies to bona fide class actions in general.
PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT
The plaintiff class is comprised of persons between the age of
16 and 21 years who have not earned a high school degree and are
held in the custody of DOC. New York law creates an entitlement
to education for all youngsters between the ages of 5 and 21
years. N.Y. Educ. L. § 3202. The manner in which a society
treats its prisoners offers unparalleled insight into its degree
of civilization. See F. Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
(1861). Thus, in an enlightened state like New York, the fact
that a youngster becomes incarcerated does not imply that he or
she has forfeited the entitlement to education. N.Y. Educ. L. §
3202(7); 9 NYCCR § 7070.1-7070.2 (defining incarcerated
youngsters eligible for educational services when they are
incarcerated or likely to be incarcerated for ten or more days).
It is well settled from high authority that when state law
guarantees a free public education this creates a
constitutionally protected property interest. See Goss v.
Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 574-76, 95 S.Ct. 729, 42 L.Ed.2d 725
(1975). Defendants clearly may not abrogate plaintiffs'
constitutionally protected property interests without any
procedural safeguards without running afoul of the due process
The plaintiff class contains two groups of inmates: the
younger inmates for whom full time educational instruction is
mandatory and the older inmates who are entitled, but not
required, to receive at least part-time schooling. N.Y. Educ. L.
§ 3205 (requiring full time instruction for 6 to 17 year old
students and offering part-time instruction to prospective
students between the ages of 18 and 21 years who have not yet
earned a high school diploma). Extensive regulations govern the
quality and quantity of such instruction in far greater detail
than the court need consider here. Plaintiffs have produced
uncontradicted evidence that many class members received no
educational services for significant lengths of time. As
particularly egregious examples, plaintiffs have put forward
unrefuted evidence that hundreds of adolescent inmates held in
special housing areas (such as homosexual housing, protective
custody, mental observation, administrative segregation and
punitive segregation) received absolutely no schooling during
many semesters. Dispute as to the exact number of these inmates
proves immaterial as there can be no genuine dispute that the
total failure to provide any general education services to any
eligible inmates is not a violation of those inmates' rights.
As mentioned above, plaintiffs have also proffered
uncontradicted evidence that a substantial number of class
members suffer from learning disabilities rendering their
educational entitlements subject to the IDEA as well as New York
laws governing special education. Just like the general
entitlement to a free public education, the entitlement to
special education services is not trumped by incarceration. The
IDEA requires school districts to proactively attempt to
identify all youngsters with disabilities and, for each child,
develop an individualized education plan ("IEP") tailored to
meet that child's unique learning needs. 20 U.S.C. § 1414. The
relevant statutes and regulations provide great detail as to the
requirements of creating and implementing these IEPs. Plaintiffs
have presented unrefuted evidence as to the limited efforts
defendants have undertaken to identify class members in need of
special education, the paltry number of IEPs developed at Rikers
Island, the frequent failure to obtain existing IEPs created for
class members prior to their incarceration, the lack of special
classroom facilities and resource rooms, and the systematic
failure to tailor class members' educational programs to meet
their special educational needs. There can be no genuine dispute
that the total failure to provide any special education services
to eligible inmates is not a violation of those inmates' rights.
New York law grants class members a property right to a free
and appropriate education. Under any reasonable interpretation
of the relevant laws, defendants have prevented class members
from enjoying this property right without any procedural
protections prior to this deprivation. For these reasons the
court granted a motion for declaratory judgment establishing
City defendants' liability for failure to provide class members
with adequate educational services. The court also ordered City
defendants to file a plan for providing full and complete
educational services for all eligible inmates of Rikers Island.
This remedy serves to prevent future such violations of class
This court cannot overstate the importance of education for
youngsters in general but especially for youth whose encounters
with the legal system have gained them membership in the
plaintiff class. Depriving class members of adequate educational
services for the duration of their incarceration not only
deprives those individuals of their rights but also poorly
serves the larger society to which class members will return,
and hopefully remain, upon their release. The court has ordered
defendants to devise a plan to ensure that the City defendants
provide adequate educational services to inmates on Rikers
Island in years to come. The better the educational services
provided the greater the chance that the seeds of learning may
bloom in prison air so that someday only ignorance will waste
and wither there. See O. Wilde, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"
For the reasons outlined above the court granted plaintiffs'
motion for declaratory judgment, establishing the City
defendants' liability for failure to provide adequate general
and special educational services to class members at the
facilities on Rikers Island.
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