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MAIN RD. v. AYTCH

October 29, 1974

MAIN ROAD, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
LOUIS S. AYTCH, Superintendent, Philadelphia Prison System



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FULLAM

 FULLAM, District Judge.

 This is an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Prison System from denying prisoners in these institutions access to the media, either in the form of press conferences or direct individual interviews with a reporter on a one-to-one basis. Plaintiffs allege that the actions of the defendant Aytch, Superintendent of the Philadelphia Prison System, have resulted in their being denied their rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. These complaints are properly brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and jurisdiction exists in this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).

 Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction on July 30, 1973. With the consent of the parties, a consolidated hearing on both the preliminary and permanent injunctions was held on September 25 and 26, 1973. At the hearing, plaintiffs' motion for declaration of class action was granted. After evidence was presented by both sides, the motion for a preliminary injunction was denied. Thereafter, the parties were requested to file findings of fact and conclusions of law. Final disposition of the litigation was thereafter deferred pending decision by the Supreme Court of docketed cases (hereinafter discussed) involving similar issues.

 The facts may be summarized as follows:

 A. STRUCTURE OF PHILADELPHIA PRISON SYSTEM

 The plaintiff class consists of all prisoners incarcerated in the Philadelphia Prison System. The population of the prison system numbers approximately 2400 inmates, of whom approximately 85% are pretrial detainees charged with all types of offenses. The remaining 15% of the prison population consists of convicted prisoners serving sentences of less than two years. The Philadelphia Prison System consists of three prisons: (1) Holmesburg Prison; (2) The Detention Center; and (3) The House of Corrections. The population of Holmesburg Prison, numbering approximately 1,000 inmates, includes both sentenced prisoners and pretrial detainees. *fn1" All of the inmates of the Detention Center, which has a capacity of approximately 750 male adults, are pretrial detainees. The population of the House of Corrections, the system's only minimum security facility, includes both pretrial and sentenced male adults, juvenile offenders awaiting trial, and female prisoners. The defendant Aytch, as Superintendent of the Philadelphia Prison System, is responsible for the administration of these correctional facilities.

 B. NEGOTIATIONS DEALING WITH THE FEASIBILITY OF PRISONERS HOLDING PRESS CONFERENCES

 In October of 1972, one of the plaintiff organizations, Inmates Action Council (hereinafter referred to as "IAC"), was concerned with the fact that inmates were not receiving notice of continuance dates when trials or hearings were postponed. IAC, with the approval of defendant Aytch and in conjunction with staff personnel from the Community Legal Services organization (hereinafter referred to as "CLS"), documented the severity of the problem by surveying the inmate population. After completing the survey, two members of the CLS staff, authorized to act as legal counsel for IAC, asked the defendant for permission to hold a press conference so that they might inform the public of the problem. Superintendent Aytch denied this request after learning that the Philadelphia Voluntary Defender office, the organization representing many of the inmates in their pending criminal trials, refused to send a representative to the conference. The defendant argues that he was attempting to protect the inmates from prejudicing their pending criminal cases. *fn2" However, it also appears that the defendant was concerned about the possibility that inmates' public criticism of the Defender Association might result in a clash between his office and the Voluntary Defender.

 Ignoring the Superintendent's refusal, members of the plaintiff class and their CLS representatives, without informing the defendant, proceeded to schedule a press conference on April 4, 1973. When the press arrived, they were refused access to the prison. Although the media representatives were not anticipated visitors, Superintendent Aytch met with them at the Detention Center, explained that the inmates and their CLS representatives were not authorized to call the press conference, and attempted to arrange interviews between the reporters and individual inmates. Charles Stone, a reporter from the Philadelphia Daily News, was permitted to interview two inmates at the House of Detention about their problems with parole practices. George Straight, another reporter present on that date, stated in his affidavit that he was refused permission to interview inmate Charles Cobbs because defendant Aytch "could not make proper arrangements then." Although the record does not explicitly clarify the reasons for the disparate treatment, it does appear that Cobb was an inmate at Holmesburg Prison and that greater advance notice may have been required at that institution.

 Apparently, the results of the continuance and probation surveys were never communicated to the proper government agencies. The only information released was a seven-page press release disseminated to the media on April 4, 1973. The first four pages of the document contained a summary of the probation problem and the remaining three pages gave specific examples of the procedure, as applied to 21 inmates. The representatives of CLS informed the Court that their clients had instructed them that their complaints should be transmitted through the media, or not at all. No evidence in the record suggests that any of the survey information was presented to the Voluntary Defender, probation officials or defendant Aytch.

 It is clear from the evidence that Superintendent Aytch, in the past, has permitted large gatherings of inmates and "outsiders" within the prison walls. In May of 1973, the Superintendent approved a request for a press conference sponsored by "Gang Relate With Society," an inmate group at Holmesburg Prison. The press conference was attended by several inmates, prison personnel, representatives of the city government, several reporters and a television camera crew. In addition, there have been a number of large social gatherings held within the prison system during the last few ...


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