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SMITH v. BRIERLEY

September 19, 1978

Harold X (Smith) for himself and all other Pennsylvania Graterford Prisoners similarly situated
v.
Mr. J. BRIERLEY, Special consultant to the Commissioner of the Bureau, Mr. William B. Robinson, Commissioner of the Bureau, Mr. Julius T. Cuyler, Superintendent of Graterford, Mr. Melvin C. Hunter, Correctional Industry Division Supervisor



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

Plaintiff, a prisoner confined at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania, filed this complaint Pro se on November 23, 1976. He alleges that the statewide inmate compensation system, currently in force at Graterford, violates his civil rights. Plaintiff seeks damages and equitable relief under the 1871 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 (1970), and the 1866 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (1970), as well as declaratory relief. Defendants are the Pennsylvania Commissioner of Correction, a special consultant to the Commissioner who helped to develop the inmate compensation system, the superintendent of Graterford, and the Industries Division Manager at Graterford.

Defendants, after filing an answer, moved for summary judgment. Counsel was appointed to represent plaintiff, and a brief in opposition to defendants' motion was filed on behalf of plaintiff. Following oral argument on the motion for summary judgment, the parties stipulated that all claims asserted in the complaint that were not raised in plaintiff's brief would be dismissed without prejudice. See Document No. 14. With respect to the claims that Were advanced in plaintiff's brief, I have considered carefully the points raised on both sides, and I conclude, for the reasons set out in this opinion, that defendants' motion should be granted as to some, but not all, of those claims.

 The factual record presently before me consists of the initial pleadings, affidavits executed by defendants Brierley and Hunter, a memorandum written by Brierley summarizing the inmate compensation system, a copy of the unpublished regulations governing the inmate compensation system, a copy of the "Inmate Progress Report" form used by prison supervisors to evaluate inmates as workers, and a number of other affidavits. *fn1" On this motion for summary judgment, of course, I must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. E. g., Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 347 n. 11, 96 S. Ct. 2074, 48 L. Ed. 2d 684 (1976); United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S. Ct. 993, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1962) (per curiam); Drexel v. Union Prescription Centers, Inc., 582 F.2d 781, 784 (3d Cir. 1978).

 In essence, the inmate compensation system "establishes the principles and procedures used in paying inmates for their labor" at all Pennsylvania correctional institutions. ICS § 01. *fn2" Plaintiff challenges several different aspects of the system, and so I will discuss the pertinent sections in conjunction with each of plaintiff's legal theories.

 CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

 Plaintiff's broadest contention is that the inmate compensation system amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because the wages paid to inmates are well below even the minimum wage established by state and federal law for most workers. It is undisputed that inmates are paid between ten and twenty-nine cents per hour, depending on the degree of skill that their jobs are deemed to require. ICS §§ 7, 8. Plaintiff earns a total of $ 46.00 per month at his job at Graterford. Smith Affidavit P 7, Exhibit 1 to Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law.

 I had occasion only recently to discuss the development of the eighth amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the proper application of that prohibition to conditions found in state prisons. See United States ex rel. Hoss v. Cuyler, 452 F. Supp. 256, 280-86 (E.D.Pa.1978). I need not retrace those steps here, for it is readily apparent that, at least under the traditional eighth amendment analysis, the payment to inmates of very low wages does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. *fn3" The wage scale established by the inmate compensation system involves neither the wanton infliction of physical pain nor the imposition of a punishment incompatible with evolving societal standards of decency. See generally Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102-03, 97 S. Ct. 285, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1976). Nor can it be said that the payment of very low wages renders the conditions of plaintiff's imprisonment so severe as to make it grossly disproportionate to the crime for which he was incarcerated.

 Plaintiff's eighth amendment argument, however, is premised on the view that state prisoners "are entitled to prison conditions that are not counterproductive to their efforts to rehabilitate themselves." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law (Document No. 13) at 9 (citation omitted). Starting from this assumption, plaintiff argues that the payment of very low wages to inmates frustrates their efforts at rehabilitation in two ways. First, inmates tend to perceive the disparity between their prison wages and the prevailing wages outside of prison as demeaning and unfair, and so their attitudes toward society at large may be soured. Second, inmates' families may be "forced" onto the welfare rolls by the limited earning power of their incarcerated breadwinners, and this may lead to their prolonged dependence on the state even after the breadwinner is released. Therefore, plaintiff reasons, because the very low wage scale is detrimental to inmates' efforts at self-rehabilitation, the eighth amendment bars the use of that wage scale.

 Although the payment of very low wages may indeed tend to frustrate rehabilitation, I nevertheless find no constitutional violation here, for I cannot accept plaintiff's premise. The eighth amendment simply does not require that each and every potential obstacle to rehabilitation be eradicated from state prisons. Cf. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 n. 8, 98 S. Ct. 2565, 2571, 57 L. Ed. 2d 522 (1978) ("the Constitution does not require that every aspect of prison discipline serve a rehabilitative purpose").

 This conclusion is in accord with the great bulk of reported decisions on this issue. As I pointed out in United States ex rel. Hoss v. Cuyler, supra, "courts have generally rejected cruel and unusual punishment claims based on (the) inadequacy of rehabilitative services." 452 F. Supp. at 283 (citations omitted).

 I recognize that several recent district court decisions, including one in the Third Circuit, have embraced the constitutional "right" that plaintiff advances here. See, e.g., Laaman v. Helgemoe, 437 F. Supp. 269, 316-22 (D.N.H.1977); Barnes v. Government of Virgin Islands, 415 F. Supp. 1218, 1226-27 (D.V.I.1976); Pugh v. Locke, 406 F. Supp. 318 (M.D.Ala.1976), Modified in pertinent part sub nom. Newman v. Alabama, 559 F.2d 283, 287 (5th Cir. 1977) (failure to provide opportunities for inmate rehabilitation "does not by itself constitute cruel and unusual punishment"). In particular, plaintiff relies on Judge Bownes' extensive opinion in Laaman v. Helgemoe, supra. However, as I read this line of cases, and as Laaman itself suggests, this new branch of eighth amendment analysis stops short of an absolute prohibition on prison facilities or conditions that are not conducive to rehabilitation. Rather, the cases seem to contemplate an assessment of (1) the extent to which the prison environment threatens inmates with physical or mental deterioration, and (2) the extent to which prison programs or facilities affirmatively offer inmates any opportunities for physical or mental rehabilitation. See, e.g., Laaman v. Helgemoe, supra, 437 F. Supp. at 316-17. The leading cases that found eighth amendment violations were based on findings that the prison environment threatened inmates with physical or mental deterioration, and that this danger was not significantly offset by available opportunities for rehabilitation. See, e.g., Pugh v. Locke, supra ; Holt v. Sarver, 309 F. Supp. 362 (E.D.Ark.1970), Aff'd, 442 F.2d 304 (8th Cir. 1971).

 I may assume for present purposes only that this relatively undeveloped line of eighth amendment analysis is sound, for, even under this analysis, plaintiff has not made a showing sufficient to withstand this motion for summary judgment. Nothing in the record even suggests that the overall environment at Graterford threatens plaintiff with serious physical or mental deterioration. Under the circumstances, I cannot say that the eighth amendment has been violated simply because one aspect of life at Graterford the very low inmate wage scale may lessen plaintiff's potential for rehabilitation. Indeed, to accept plaintiff's argument here would be tantamount to holding that rehabilitation is a constitutionally compelled aspect of incarceration, rather than simply a social desideratum that the state may choose to foster. Cf., e.g., Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 823, 94 S. Ct. 2800, 2804, 41 L. Ed. 2d 495 (1974) ("since most offenders will eventually return to society, (a) paramount objective of the corrections system is the rehabilitation of those committed to its custody"). Plaintiff has presented no argument that would support such a radical reinterpretation of the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Cf. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 , -- n. 8, 98 S. Ct. 2565, 2571, 57 L. Ed. 2d 522 (1978) ("the Constitution does not require that every aspect of prison discipline serve a rehabilitative purpose").

 Inasmuch as no factual issues remain and defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, I will enter summary judgment in their favor on plaintiff's claim of cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff asserts this claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 (1970), and directly under the eighth (and fourteenth) amendments. I see no material differences among these various theories of liability that might call for different treatment on the present ...


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