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MEYERS v. ALLDREDGE

June 16, 1972

Joel MEYERS et al.,
v.
Noah ALLDREDGE, Warden, United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, et al.


Nealon, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON

NEALON, District Judge.

 Plaintiffs commenced this suit on behalf of themselves and all inmates at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in which they challenge the constitutionality of conditions and practices at the Penitentiary following an inmate work stoppage in February, 1972. *fn1" The plaintiffs advanced the following contentions: (1) the actions of the administration were so fundamentally unfair and the charges against the plaintiffs and their class so fundamentally untrue as to constitute a violation of substantive due process; (2) the disciplinary procedures afforded plaintiffs and their class were so inadequate that they failed to comply with procedural due process; and (3) the punishments inflicted upon plaintiffs and their class were so harsh and disproportionate to the alleged infractions as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence was presented and testimony taken on March 29, 30, and May 12, 15, 1972. A briefing schedule was established and final reply briefs were filed May 26, 1972.

 A review of the evidence is necessary to place the issues in their proper perspective.

 On the morning of Tuesday, February 15, 1972, at approximately 9:00 A.M. at the United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, rumors reached prison officials that an inmate work stoppage was scheduled to take place that afternoon in the Prison Industry Section. At 12:30 P.M., after inmates were returning to their work assignments following the noon meal, between 150 and 200 men began milling about in the open area between the Industry building and the Institution warehouse. Captain Paul Dodd, Chief Correctional Supervisor, investigated and, at his behest, an inmate named Saunders climbed up on the loading platform and inquired as to what the men were doing out there. At this point, plaintiff Ronald Phillips ascended the platform and read from a three-sheet document entitled "United Prisoners Bill of Rights". He was followed by plaintiff William Irwin who complained, admittedly in an emotional manner, about the prisoners being "robbed", "wages being withheld", "that those who withheld their wages are criminals and should be in jail", and about the unfairness of the Parole Board. The crowd reacted in kind and some raised their fists shouting "right on". Plaintiff Clarence Jones also expressed himself briefly as did two other inmates, Hartwell and Humphrey. There were between ten to fifteen inmates on the platform, including plaintiff Joel Meyers, who in addition to making a speech, was observed carrying "quite a bit of paper, whispering and passing the paper around", and plaintiff John Alger, although Alger did not address the crowd and there was no testimony as to his conduct at that time. This activity lasted for almost an hour and, when it began to snow, Captain Dodd suggested that the inmates move inside to the Auditorium where they could meet and attempt to prepare a list of grievances which he, in turn, would submit to his superior. He stressed that they remain non-violent and stated that there would be "no reprisals because of this incident". The inmates then moved into the Auditorium where they remained until 3:30 P.M. and during which time a committee of nine inmates (3 white, 3 black and 3 Spanish-speaking) was created to meet with the Administration at 6:30 P.M. that evening. In the meantime, at approximately 2:00 P.M., the Administration announced that all inmates in the shops, warehouse and remaining industries were to be allowed to leave if they desired, and at 2:30 P.M., all had left. There was also a walkout by part of the food service detail necessitating staff employees being placed in the kitchen to complete preparation of the evening meal. At 5:00 P.M. prison officials felt that tension was mounting and a large number of inmates were milling around the "Red Top", the center portion of the main corridor in front of the Dining Room, into which all other corridors feed. The scheduled meeting at 6:30 P.M. did not materialize because many inmates complained that the 9-man grievance committee had not been properly selected and was not representative of the prison population. At the request of inmate John Wagner, Associate Editor of the Prison Digest International, another prisoner meeting was scheduled in the Auditorium; Deputy Warden George L. Cansler having announced over the public address system that the inmates had until 8:30 P.M. to elect a committee of 8 to 12 men, and the administration would then meet with this committee. The meeting was concluded prior to 8:00 P.M. and a negotiating committee of 16 was elected with plaintiff William Irwin as Chairman, and plaintiffs Joel Meyers, Ronald Phillips, Clarence Jones, Lucky Johnson, Edward Mason, Ronald Tucker, Michel Buyse and John Alger as members of the committee (also known as the first committee). Irwin informed Cansler that because the committee desired to formulate grievances, it could not meet with the administration that evening and, further, that they were shutting down all work activity, except in the hospital. After the inmates returned to their quarters, the administration decided to suspend all activities and to secure the institution by locking all inmates in their housing units. Plans were made to place staff employees in Food Service and, beginning the next morning, to feed one floor of each housing unit at a time. Because of the delay in food preparation and the additional time required to feed the inmates in their quarters, the institution was placed on a two meals per day basis except in segregation where three meals a day were served. There were no threats or acts of violence, although prison officials believed that the rising tension in the institution required prompt action on prisoner grievances.

 The following morning, Wednesday, February 16, at 9:00 A.M., correctional officers released the members of the committee and took them to Room 14 of the Education Building where they were allowed to meet. Shortly after 10:00 A.M., Wagner, who was serving as liaison between the committee and the administration, presented a list of five demands which the committee specified would have to be met before they would proceed to anything else. The five demands were: (1) a letter from the Warden recognizing the negotiating committee as such; (2) a letter confirming that there would be no reprisals by officials of the institution against members of the committee; (3) reopening of the visiting room which had been closed; (4) that the committee be allowed to have a legal representative at their meetings, viz., Philip Hinchey of Alexandria, Virginia; and (5) the presence at their meetings of a member of the press. The list of demands also contained the following notation:

 
"These 5 demand is priority before anything else is start, we will not start meet unles those 5 demand are receive, this demand should be read to the population by P.A. Systhem." (sic)

 At 1:00 P.M., Warden Noah Alldredge and members of his staff proceeded to Room 14 and, after going over each demand, informed the committee that all five were rejected. The Warden indicated to the members of the committee that by meeting with them he was, in fact, recognizing them and he stated further that there would be no reprisals so long as they functioned as a committee in good faith and did not commit an illegal act. He implored them to undertake the compiling of grievances and gave them until 3:00 P.M. to prepare and submit the grievances or else he would disband the committee and attempt to form another one. When the Warden attempted to read a Bureau of Prisons Policy Statement to the committee, one of its members, Walter Scully, leaped to his feet and refused to allow the statement to be read. Scully also emphasized that the five demands would have to be met before the committee would begin to work on grievances. At 3:10 P.M. Cansler returned to Room 14 and, after determining that no grievances were to be submitted, disbanded the committee. At 4:00 P.M. after the committee returned to quarters, Cansler announced over the Public Address System that the committee would not present grievances and had been disbanded. He asked for the formation of a new committee and requested each of the 16 housing units to elect a representative. Eight units responded, from which eight committee members were elected and the administration selected eight representatives from the remaining units, thus constituting a new negotiating committee (also known as the second committee).

 The next day, Thursday, February 17, the members of the second committee circulated among the prison population to collect grievances. They encountered resentment from other inmates and, subsequently, requested a meeting with the first committee. Only one member of the first committee, Scully, agreed to meet with them and at the meeting, he berated them and called on them to disband, which they did. At 2:30 P.M., plaintiffs Irwin, Phillips, Alger, Mason, Buyse, and other members of the first committee, viz., Hilty, Wolcott, and Scully, were placed in the S-5 section of segregation. *fn2" (Meyers had been confined in segregation since February 16th as a result of an altercation in the Dining Room and subsequently, February 19th, plaintiff Jones and inmate Vivero, who were also members of the negotiating committee, were placed in S-5.) Misconduct reports were filed charging plaintiffs with attempting to incite a work stoppage. At this time there were virtually no services within the Institution and regular employees, working 12 to 18 hours per day, had to provide essential services, including cooking, baking, and serving meals.

 From Thursday, February 17th, to Tuesday, February 22nd, after receiving information of threatened violence and the taking of hostages, a systematic shakedown of housing units was initiated and 150 weapons were confiscated, such as knives, hatchets and similar instruments. At the same time, staff employees were probing for inmate attitudes in an effort to determine grievances and complaints. During this period essential services continued to be furnished by regular employees and the prisoners remained locked in their housing units except while dining. (It should be noted that February 19th was a Saturday, February 20th was a Sunday, and February 21st was a national holiday.)

 On Tuesday, February 22nd, plans were made to attempt to put the Institution back to work on February 23rd and work schedules were posted for shop areas and maintenance details. It was decided, however, that Industry could not be put back on such short notice and Industry employees were to be allowed to go into indoor recreation areas. On February 23rd, all inmates were then released but, at 4:00 P.M., the plan was cancelled and the inmates returned to their units when, according to administration sources, certain inmates in the recreation areas were agitating the men not to return to work. That evening, after I and J honor units, which defense witnesses described as "normally pro-administration", had hesitated about going back to work, a staff committee of four went into these units to determine sentiment and came back with a report that the prisoners desired that the first committee be reactivated and allowed to meet, with observers attending who could inform the prison population whether the committee was honestly interested in presenting grievances. The need for observers was apparently necessitated by the fact that the prison population had received conflicting versions from the Administration and the first committee as to what had occurred in the discussions on February 16th between prison officials and the committee.

 Pursuant to this, on February 24th at 11:30 A.M., the eleven members of the first committee confined to segregation and the five members who remained in population met with four observers, two having been selected by I and J units and two by the administration. A very hectic meeting developed as the committee members felt the observers were sent to the meeting by prison officials to cause confusion and disruption and, after several heated exchanges, the committee asked the observers to leave, and they complied. At 4:00 P.M., a written communication was sent to the Warden requesting that the committee members in segregation be allowed to return to their quarters and, if he so agreed, the committee would meet on a "morning-noon-nightly basis, beginning on/or about 7:00 P.M. tonight, with sincere hopes of bringing this matter toward further positive developments". The Warden denied this request because "I did not consider this a grievance from the population, but just another pre-condition." Later at 8:15 P.M., another communication was forwarded to the Warden requesting an open meeting in the Auditorium, access to the P.A. system, allowing committee members to mingle among the general population and use of the mimeograph machine. The Warden describing the requests as "pre-conditions without even mentioning grievances" rejected all of them. The committee continued to meet until 10:00 P.M., and during most of this period they were bogged down in a dispute as to whether they should continue to refuse to negotiate until the Warden would formally recognize them in writing. One of the Spanish-speaking members of the committee requested the committee to inform the Warden that if he agreed to formally recognize them, they would ask all inmates to return to work immediately. This was voted down whereupon the Spanish-speaking member advised the committee that he would pull all Spanish-speaking inmates out of the work stoppage and, as a result, the proposal was reconsidered and accepted. The committee then adjourned at 10:00 P.M., eleven inmates returning to segregation and five to population.

 The following morning, Friday, February 25, the committee reconvened and was apprised by the five inmates in population that the inmates were very upset about the suggestion that they go back to work and the Spanish-speaking inmates, in particular, felt they were being sold out. In addition, the Warden presented the committee with a written memorandum in which he stated that he was "almost convinced" that they did not intend to submit grievances but continued to furnish "nothing but the same pre-conditions using different words". He advised them that they would be allowed to meet on a daily "round the clock" basis "until you are able to produce some grievances representing the general population". The committee was orally told that the Warden would reply to all submitted grievances within two weeks in the Friday Flier (the prison newspaper); that the grievances would be mailed to sixteen people chosen by the committee, and that a minimum custody inmate would be allowed to go to the town of Lewisburg to see that these letters were properly mailed. According to plaintiffs Alger and Phillips, the committee felt that to submit a written list of grievances to be answered in two weeks in the Friday Flier was no different from writing a complaint letter to the Administration and was just another instance of the administration's ignoring complaints by "throwing them in a drawer". Plaintiffs concede that the committee did not want to prepare grievances until the Warden officially recognized it but, according to plaintiff Irwin, at 2:00 P.M. it was decided by a vote of 13 to 2 to treat the Warden's Policy Statement as "legal recognition of the committee" and work was started on grievances. Committee member Scully told Deputy Warden Cansler that the grievances would be ready by 3:00 P.M. At 4:00 P.M. Cansler entered the meeting room and was advised by Scully that they would be ready in 10 minutes. After waiting 10 minutes, Cansler returned and was told the committee would be finished in "just a little while". Cansler testified that he observed some unused stencils and "saw nothing in evidence that they were putting grievances together". *fn3" The committee stated that it wanted another meeting at 7:30 P.M. but Cansler rejected this indicating that the Warden had to inform the Bureau of Prisons before 5:00 P.M. whether the prison would be back in operation on Monday. *fn4" Scully then apprised Cansler that it would take at least two more hours before they could finish their grievances and Cansler, convinced that this was a stalling tactic to prolong the strike, demanded the list immediately and, when none was forthcoming, he terminated the meeting, dismissed the committee and returned them to segregation. Because of the lack of progress and the building of tensions, Warden Alldredge decided he had to change direction and arrangements were made to send interviewing teams into each housing unit to interview all inmates to ascertain if they were willing to return to work.

 On Saturday morning, February 26th, fifteen teams of two men each, interviewed all inmates, approximately 1250, and exhibited a questionnaire which stated, inter alia, that the administration had concluded that the inmate committee had no intention of preparing grievances and that it was in the best interests of all not to continue the situation indefinitely. Each inmate was asked to indicate in writing whether he was willing to return to work with an admonition that a negative answer may be cause for disciplinary action. A substantial majority indicated a willingness to go back to work, but 311 others, including plaintiff Richard Moore *fn5" and William McAllester *fn6" refused to respond affirmatively.

 The next day, Sunday, February 27th, the non-complying inmates were either placed in segregation or confined in E and F dormitories.

 At 10:00 A.M. on Monday, February 28th, a work call was issued over the P.A. system and 942 inmates returned to work. Later, the housing units were canvassed and it was discovered that 6 men had refused to answer the work call and they were placed in segregation. The situation steadily improved, although information was received that certain hard core groups were advocating the revival of the strike, the taking of hostages, and attempts at sabotage. The segregated inmates remained in that status until Saturday, March 4th, when the inmates in E and F units were interviewed and all but two agreed to return to work; those refusing were continued in segregated status. Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on March 17, 1972.

 DISCUSSION

 Prior to analyzing the factual issues, we start with the oft-repeated comment of the Supreme Court in Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285, 68 S. Ct. 1049, 1060, 92 L. Ed. 1356 (1948) that "[lawful] incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system". Furthermore, even those rights which survive penal confinement may be diluted by peculiar institutional requirements of discipline, safety, and security. Nevertheless, prison officials do not have carte blanche to disregard a prisoner's constitutional rights, even in the name of prison discipline, Owens v. Brierley, 452 F.2d 640, 642 (3rd Cir. 1971), and the courts have not hesitated to entertain actions asserting violations of fundamental rights. Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 577 (8th Cir. 1968). However, a prisoner has only ...


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