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Skokie Federal Sav. and Loan Ass'n v. Berg

argued: June 25, 1990.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 87-1537.

Sloviter and Mansmann, Circuit Judges, and Fullam, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Sloviter


SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.



In this appeal we are called upon to review the district court's findings and conclusion that double-celling inmates in an overcrowded, dilapidated and unsanitary state prison violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The defendants/appellants also question the extent of the district court's power to ameliorate prison conditions.

Appellees, inmates at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCIP), brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against David Owens, Jr., Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, George Petsock, Superintendent of SCIP, Arnold Snitzer, M.D., a member of the medical staff of SCIP, and Robert Casey, Governor of Pennsylvania, claiming that the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth Amendment. Chief Judge Cohill, after conducting a six-week trial and an unannounced tour of SCIP, issued a comprehensive opinion identifying numerous constitutional violations in the administration of the prison. See Tillery v. Owens, 719 F. Supp. 1256 (W.D.Pa. 1989). The court held that defendants had failed to provide constitutionally adequate security, fire protection, access to the courts, medical care, mental health care, and dental services. The court ordered defendants to submit plans to remedy these deficiencies by a specified date. It also ordered them to hire an "environmentalist" to devise and to present plans to remedy the inadequate sanitation, ventilation, plumbing and lighting. It ordered that inmates in disciplinary custody, administrative segregation, and self-lockup be separated from each other and the general population and that random, unannounced cell searches for contraband be commenced immediately. The court appointed a monitor to ensure compliance. Additionally, the court held that considering the totality of the conditions in which inmates were incarcerated, the institution was unconstitutionally overcrowded. As a partial remedy to overcrowding, the court ordered the elimination of double-celling by March 1, 1990. The Commonwealth appeals only from this provision of the order.

Defendants do not defend double-celling as desirable. They view it as an unpalatable stop-gap response to rapid increases in the prison population. See, e.g., App. at 876-80 (testimony of Superintendent George Petsock). They argue that double-celling, while disfavored, is not unconstitutional and that they should not be required to halt the practice.

The problem of double-celling is not unique to SCIP, see, e.g., Brooks v. Kleiman, 743 F. Supp. 350 (E.D.Pa. 1989) (double-celling at State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania), aff'd without opinion, 899 F.2d 1216 (3d Cir. 1990); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 699 F. Supp. 1137 (W.D.Pa. 1988) (double-celling at Allegheny County, Pennsylvania jail), appeal dismissed in part, affirmed in part, 874 F.2d 147 (3d Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 493 U.S. 948, 110 S. Ct. 355, 107 L. Ed. 2d 343 (1989), on remand, 893 F.2d 33 (3d Cir. 1990); Vazquez v. Carver, 729 F. Supp. 1063 (E.D.Pa. 1989) (double-celling at Lehigh County, Pennsylvania prison), or, indeed, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Throughout the nation prison populations are rising at an explosive rate. See, e.g., U.S. Prison Population Sets Record for a Year, in Six Months, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 1989, at 18, col. 4 (in first six months of 1989 nation's prison population rose by 7.3% to total of 673,565 inmates; figures reflect need for almost 1,800 new prison beds a week); Behind Bars, an ever-expanding crowd of inmates, Phila. Inquirer, May 8, 1989, at 1, col. 1 (between 1980 and the end of 1988 nation's prison population increased 90%).

States have been hard pressed to build additional cells to house the hundreds of inmates entering the system and many facilities are overburdened and overcrowded. See, e.g., More and More, Prison Is America's Answer to Crime, N.Y. Times, Nov. 26, 1989, sec. 4, at 1, col. 1 (California state prisons routinely operate at 175% of capacity); Behind Bars, Phila. Inquirer, May 8, 1989, at 1, col. 1 (forty-two states are under some type of court order to reduce overcrowding; federal prison system housing up to 72% more than designed for; New Jersey state prisons operating at 118% capacity). As a result, inmates are increasingly forced to double-cell. See, e.g., Heath v. De Courcy, 888 F.2d 1105 (6th Cir. 1989) (Hamilton County, Ohio jail); Badgley v. SantaCroce, 853 F.2d 50 (2d Cir. 1988) (Nassau County, New York Corrections Center); Vosburg v. Solem, 845 F.2d 763 (8th Cir.) (South Dakota State Penitentiary), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 928, 109 S. Ct. 313, 102 L. Ed. 2d 332 (1988); Marsh v. Barry, 263 U.S. App. D.C. 159, 824 F.2d 1139 (D.C.Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (District of Columbia Central Detention Facility). When double-celling was instituted at SCIP in 1982, it was envisioned as a temporary measure. App. at 859 (testimony of Superintendent Petsock). However, at this time, there is no end to the practice in sight. Id. at 861, 875.

The district court's determination that the practice of double-celling at SCIP violates the Eighth Amendment and must be eliminated was made in light of detailed and meticulous findings of fact concerning overcrowding, staff shortages, health care and environmental conditions, including plumbing, ventilation and sanitation. Although we recognize that our recapitulation of the district court's findings necessarily entails a repetition of what is already set forth in that court's reported opinion, we believe an understanding of the salient facts is necessary to the legal analysis we must undertake.


District Court's Findings of Fact

SCIP, which dates to the late 1800s, is a 14-acre complex surrounded by a stone wall. Prisoners are housed in multi-tiered cellblocks in cells that were designed to accommodate one person each. However, since 1982 inmates increasingly have been placed two to a cell because the prison lacked space for its increasing population. At the time of trial, SCIP housed 1,802 inmates, approximately 1,182 of whom were double-celled. The average length of an inmate's sentence is two years, but many serve much longer.

Most inmates are housed in two central structures known as North and South Blocks, which date to the construction of the institution. Each block contains five tiers of cells. North Block contains 640 cells. Of these, 560 cells measure 8 x 7 feet, or 56 square feet ("large" cells), and 80 measure 6 x 6 1/2 feet, or 39 square feet ("small" cells). The top three tiers, containing 363 cells are vacant. According to the district court, the cells are empty "due to inadequate staff." 719 F. Supp. at 1263. The court also noted that the Superintendent of SCIP, George Petsock, testified that the cells had been emptied in anticipation of new housing construction but the construction had not yet begun.*fn1 Most inmates in North Block are housed individually in the 272 cells that are occupied. South Block contains 500 cells of 56 square feet each. At the time of trial 741 inmates were housed in South Block and 516 were double-celled.

Another structure, A and B Blocks, built in 1986, contains the Western Diagnostic and Classification Center, known as the clinic, as well as 480 cells for inmates needing special psychiatric care, death-sentenced inmates, and inmates who are segregated, either for disciplinary reasons or to protect them from themselves or others. The third level of Block B, which contains 48 cells, is vacant as a result of a staffing shortage. At the time of trial, approximately 762 inmates were housed in Blocks A and B. Plaintiffs do not complain in this suit about the condition and size of these newer quarters.

A typical cell in North and South Block contains a small toilet, a sink with hot and cold running water, a bed, a desk, and a footlocker. Cells housing two inmates are furnished with two bunk beds and two footlockers. Because the only space provided for storage of personal items is one small shelf and the space under the bed, inmates place their possessions in the small aisle between the bed and the opposite wall, or hang them from clothes lines strung across the room. The usable floor space in a large cell is approximately 23 square feet, or 11 1/2 square feet per inmate in a shared cell, while in the small cells the usable floor space is 15 square feet.*fn2

Most inmates in North and South Block spend approximately 14 hours a day in their cells. North Block also houses the overflow of clinic inmates who spend 16 hours a day in their cells. Furthermore, some inmates in North Block are in administrative segregation and must spend 21 to 22 hours a day in their cells for as long as four consecutive weeks. The court found that "[b]ecause these shared cells are so tiny, only one inmate at a time can stand in the cell; the other must lie on the bed." Id. at 1264. In fact, when the district judge entered one of the small double cells during his inspection tour, he "was unable to turn around once inside it and had to back out." Id.

Obviously, physical exercise is impossible in any of the double cells. Essentially, an inmate can only lie on his bunk or sit at the desk or on the bunk.

Each cell contains a lamp mounted above the upper bunk and a desk light. The desk light provides insufficient light for reading. The lamp provides adequate light for the inmate on the top bunk to read, but virtually no light to the inmate on the bottom bunk. Thus the inmate occupying the lower bunk can read, write or engage in hobbies only during the day.

Despite the small size of the cells, 20% to 25% of the inmates fear to leave them for recreation and exercise because they fear physical assault. Much of the insecurity is due to understaffing. For example, the 741 inmates housed in South Block are supervised by only seven officers at most and guards cannot see many areas of the block. Between 1984 and 1988, there were an average of 97 reported inmate assaults each year at SCIP. The district court found that there were many more unreported assaults, and that there was arson, drug use and theft. Weapons such as knives, ice picks, razors and homemade guns are easily available to inmates. Most are ...

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