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Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce

decided: December 28, 1979.

INMATES OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL, THOMAS PRICE BEY, ARTHUR GOSLEE, HARRY SMITH, ROBERT MALONEY, AND CALVIN MILLIGAN ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANTS
v.
ROBERT PIERCE, CHAIRMAN, ALLEGHENY COUNTY BOARD OF PRISON INSPECTORS AND ALL OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BOARD; JAMES JENNINGS, WARDEN OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY JAIL; AND JAMES FLAHERTY, ROBERT PIERCE AND THOMAS FOERSTER, COMMISSIONERS FOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY; JOHN P. LYNCH, CONTROLLER FOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY; EUGENE COON, SHERIFF FOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY; THE HONORABLE HENRY ELLENBOGEN, THE HONORABLE JOHN W. O'BRIEN, THE HONORABLE SAMUEL STRAUSS, AND THE HONORABLE PATRICK R. TAMILA, JUDGES OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY; PETER FLAHERTY, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA - PITTSBURGH (D.C. Civil No. 76-0743)

Before Aldisert, Rosenn and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

We are faced on this appeal with a challenge to certain conditions of confinement for pretrial detainees incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail. On June 2, 1976, inmates of the jail ("Inmates") filed a class action against the Allegheny County Board of Prison Inspectors ("Board") and other county officials under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 seeking a declaratory judgment that the conditions violate the constitutional rights of the inmates.

On January 4, 1978, the district court issued the first of its two opinions. Owens-FI v. Robinson, 442 F. Supp. 1368 (W.D.Pa. 1978). Although it found that many of the challenged conditions did violate the constitutional rights of the inmates, it held against them on the issues of contact visits, methadone treatment, and psychiatric care. These findings were incorporated in the court's final opinion and order of October 11, 1978. 457 F. Supp. 984. The Inmates appealed. We affirm on the issues of contact visits and drug detoxification, and remand on the issue of psychiatric care.

I.

The Allegheny County Jail is used primarily as a detention facility for persons awaiting trial. In addition to pretrial detainees, other inmates are also housed at the jail. These include: inmates who have been convicted but are awaiting sentencing; inmates who have been committed to the jail for misdemeanors for relatively short sentences; inmates on a work-release program; federal prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing; and state and federal prisoners from other institutions held in the jail while testifying in pending state and federal cases. The average daily population is approximately 430 inmates with an average length of confinement of about three weeks. Many inmates, however, are confined for substantially longer periods of time.

The Inmates' action against the Board sought broad scale relief from allegedly unconstitutional conditions at the jail. The district court found that many of the challenged conditions did indeed fall below the constitutional minimum and granted substantial relief.

Although not dispositive of the appeal before us, it is instructive to briefly summarize the conditions found to exist by the district court. Living facilities were unhealthy and unsafe. The plumbing system was antiquated and in disrepair. As a result, leaks and overflows frequently occurred in the cells. The cells lacked adequate lighting; the efforts of inmate-electricians seeking to remedy that defect caused exposed electrical wires which presented fire and shock hazards. Prisoners were required to sleep on canvas cots, many of which were discolored by blood, vomit, feces, and urine. Vermin abounded. Cell temperatures fluctuated between extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer. The shortage of guards reduced supervision of the inmates and permitted hoarding and vandalism of necessary supplies. This in turn contributed significantly to chronic shortages of necessary items such as blankets and bath towels.

Inmates with a wide spectrum of emotional and mental problems, ranging from simple "acting-out" behavior to drug withdrawal, delirium tremens, epileptic seizures, and mental instability, were confined in the "restraint room." Clothed in hospital gowns or left naked, there they were bound to canvas cots with a hole cut in the middle. A tub was placed underneath the hole to collect the body wastes of the occupant.

Some inmates were placed in solitary confinement for up to fourteen days without a mattress, toilet articles, or a change of clothing. Other inmates were confined in the nude in the isolation cell, an unfurnished, darkened, windowless room for up to fourteen consecutive hours, without any blankets or sheets.

In short, conditions in the jail were shockingly substandard and, the district court found, well below the minimum required by the Constitution. Accordingly, the court entered an order providing relief. The Board does not challenge these findings or the terms of the district court's order. In addition, however, the district court denied the Inmates relief in three specific areas. These denials form the basis of the Inmates' appeal presently before us.

Currently, jail policy precludes inmates and their visitors from physical contact, restricting them instead to booths in which the inmate and visitor are separated by a pane of glass and communication is by telephone.*fn1 The district court upheld this practice as a legitimate restriction in light of the security interests of the jail.

The Inmates also challenge the method of drug detoxification at the jail. Currently, any inmate who has been receiving methadone treatment from an authorized treatment center in Allegheny County prior to his incarceration is allowed to receive such treatment for six days following the date of confinement, after which the treatment is terminated. The district court upheld this practice as within the sound discretion of prison medical authorities.

Finally, the Inmates challenge the system of psychiatric care at the jail alleging it to be constitutionally inadequate because of insufficient staffing. Although the court ordered psychiatric training for all nurses at the jail and prohibited the further use of restraint cots, it expressed no opinion as to the constitutional sufficiency of the general level of psychiatric care.

II.

The Inmates' first contention on appeal is that the district court erred in ruling that the prohibition of contact visits does not deprive the Inmates of their due process rights under the fourteenth amendment. They argue that, under Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979), the denial of contact visits represents an "exaggerated response" to an asserted security interest and therefore constitutes a denial of due process. We disagree.

In Bell v. Wolfish, the Supreme Court considered the standard to be applied in evaluating conditions of pretrial detention. The Court held that "(i)n evaluating the constitutionality of conditions or restrictions of pretrial detention that implicate only the protection against deprivation of liberty without due process of law we think the proper inquiry is whether those conditions amount to punishment of the detainee." Bell v. Wolfish, supra, 441 U.S. at 535, 99 S. Ct. at 1872.

Absent a showing of an expressed intent to punish on the part of detention facility officials, that determination generally will turn on "(w)hether an alternative purpose to which (the restriction) may rationally be connected is assignable for it, and whether it appears excessive in relation to the alternative purpose assigned (to it)." . . . Thus, if a particular condition or restriction of pretrial detention is reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective, it does not, without more, amount to "punishment". . . . Conversely if a restriction or condition is not reasonably related to a legitimate goal if it is arbitrary or purposeless a court permissibly may infer that the purpose of the governmental action is punishment that may not constitutionally be inflicted upon detainees Qua detainees.

441 U.S. at 538-539, 99 S. Ct. at 1874. The Court admonished lower courts that the government's interest in maintaining security and order and operating the institutions in a manageable fashion is "peculiarly within the province and professional expertise of corrections officials, and, in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters." 441 U.S. at 540, 99 S. Ct. at 1875 n. 23.

The Inmates argue that there is very little likelihood that additional contraband will find its way into the jail if contact visits are allowed and that contraband will be introduced into the jail in any case. They urge that a plan recommended by the court adviser*fn2 which would have allowed contact visits in certain instances, is a reasonable alternative to the absolute prohibition presently imposed and would provide adequate protection for security interests at the jail. Under that plan inmates would not be eligible for contact visits until after having spent 45 days in confinement. The Inmates argue that this plan would protect security interests in a number of ways. First, it would limit the number of contact visits to a manageable level and thus eliminate the need to make major structural changes in the jail. Second, the waiting period would give the jail administration sufficient time to observe the various inmates and identify which of them would pose security risks if permitted to have contact visits. It also would afford the institution sufficient time to set up a visitor list for eligible inmates and determine which visitors might pose security problems.

The Inmates' arguments, however, are unpersuasive. Even though the chances of additional contraband being introduced into the jail by virtue of contact visits may well be small, prohibition of such visits is, nevertheless, not unreasonable. In Bell v. Wolfish the Court upheld body cavity ...


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