Original jurisdiction in case of Inmates of B-Block and individually, David Chacko, Daniel Delker, Terry Clay Fisher, Jerome Grant, Arthur Johnson, George Butler, Herbert Lindsey, Clarence Major, Benjamin Palmer, Kenneth Thurston and Kenneth Williams v. Ronald Marks, Commissioner, Pennsylvania Department of Correction, and Charles Zimmerman, Superintendent, State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.
Ellen K. Barry, for petitioners.
Gregory R. Neuhauser, Deputy Attorney General, with him Francis R. Filipi, Deputy Attorney General, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for respondents.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Mencer, Rogers, Blatt, Williams, Jr., Craig, MacPhail and Palladino.
[ 61 Pa. Commw. Page 422]
Before us is the preliminary objection of the respondents, the public officials charged with operating the State Correctional Institute at Huntingdon (SCIH), to an action in mandamus filed by a number of inmates of SCIH (petitioners) to compel the respondents to provide the petitioners with at least two hours of daily exercise.
The petitioners aver that they receive only 10 minutes of exercise, three or four days a week, and that this violates Section 1 of the Act of June 14, 1923 (Act), P.L. 775, 61 P.S. § 101, which provides:
Every warden, board of prison managers, prison inspectors, or any other person in authority, in charge of any prison or penitentiary, who may or shall have in charge any person confined therein whether such person be a tried or an untried prisoner, shall provide that such person shall have at least two hours daily, physical exercise in the open, weather permitting, and upon such days on which the weather is inclement, such person shall have two hours, daily, of physical exercise indoors of such prison or penitentiary: Provided, however, The same is safe and practical, and the judges of the several courts are to be the judges thereof.
The petitioners assert that this section places a statutory duty upon the respondents which is enforceable through a writ of mandamus.
[ 61 Pa. Commw. Page 423]
The respondents contend that mandamus is inappropriate where a party seeks to compel an official to perform a discretionary act and that the conduct for which mandamus is sought here is within the broad discretion which prison officials have in relation to the internal operations of correctional institutions. See e.g., Commonwealth ex rel. Bryant v. Hendrick, 444 Pa. 83, 280 A.2d 110 (1971); Robson v. Biester, 53 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 587, 420 A.2d 9 (1980).
We cannot agree that Section One of the Act, 61 P.S. § 101, imposes no duty on prison officials or that it gives them unfettered discretion in providing inmates with exercise time. The plain language of the section requires that prison officials " shall provide . . . at least two hours daily physical exercise. . . ." (Emphasis added.) We believe that such language is mandatory, not directory,*fn1 and that the petitioners, therefore, have a statutory right to such exercise periods. Moreover, the last sentence of the section specifically provides for judicial review to determine whether or not a decision of the prison officials reducing the amount of exercise time is based upon consideration of safety factors within the institution and the practical needs of the prison system. When the ...