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New York Jail Overcrowding Unconstitutional

A federal district court in New York held that overcrowding in the Erie County jail violated the eighth amendment rights of convicted prisoners and the fourteenth amendment rights of pretrial detainees housed in the jail. Bernard Zolnowski, a pretrial detainee, filed suit challenging jail conditions. The suit was then converted to a class action suit on behalf of all people held in the jail. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction which the court granted in part and denied in part.

The jail was extremely overcrowded, designed to hold 525 prisoners in a section that held 848 on any given day and a holding center designed for 402 that held 634. Prisoners were being forced to sleep on floors, in hallways and gyms. Jail conditions were described by the court as toxic, dark, filthy, soiled with feces, poor ventilation and inadequate hygiene and toilet facilities.

At the Preliminary Injunction (PI) hearing extensive testimony was heard describing the squalor and misery of the jail. The court heard detailed testimony describing the psychological impact of overcrowding, ratio of living space to safety needs, etc. One expert witness described the jail conditions as being so degrading that if a kennel "maintained such conditions for the animals in its care, it would be cited." The court made factual findings that sanitation, laundry and other living conditions were seriously, negatively, impacted by overcrowding.

The court discussed the standards to be applied in motions for preliminary injunctions as well as jail conditions of confinement suits. Pretrial detainees nominally retain greater constitutional rights than convicted prisoners. See: Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861 (1979). In this case the court relied on Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96 (2nd Cir. 1981) to find that conditions in the Erie county jail violated the eighth and fourteenth amendment rights of the plaintiffs. The court held the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of succeeding on their claims. The court gave an extensive discussion as to how conditions of overcrowded confinement, individually and in their totality, violate the constitutional rights of detainees and convicted prisoners.

After finding the prisoner plaintiffs had prevailed on their motion for a PI, the court stayed entry of formal relief for 60 days to give the defendants an opportunity "to achieve voluntary compliance with the requirements for confining of prisoners at the holding center as determined by this decision."

An interesting note is that while this is a motion for a PI, at no point did the court discuss the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and its applicability to either PIs in jail litigation or to jail overcrowding suits. The issue was probably not raised by the parties. Perhaps because no injunction has yet been issued the court has concluded the PLRA does not apply. See: Zolnowski v. County of Erie, 944 F. Supp. 1096 (WD NY 1996).

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Related legal case

Zolnowski v. County of Erie


. . . confining a given number of people in a given amount of space in such a manner as to cause them to endure genuine privations and hardship over an extended period of time might raise serious questions under the Due Process clause as to whether those conditions amounted to punishment....

[77] Wolfish, supra, at 542.

[78] However, the Court found no federal due process violation where two pretrial detainees were locked in a cell, between 11 P.M. and 6:30 A.M. and during brief periods for the day for headcounts, having a total space of approximately seventy-five square feet with two bunk beds, an uncovered toilet and a wash basin, and where during the rest of the day they were allowed to move about their rooms and common areas.

[79] In Wolfish, the detainees were nearly all released within a sixty day period. As the Court said, "we simply do not believe that requiring a detainee to share toilet facilities and this admittedly small sleeping place with another person for generally a maximum period of 60 days violates the Constitution." Wolfish at 543. In Wolfish, the challenged conditions which included severe overcrowding and inadequate recreation involved a new facility in which prisoners were housed in modular units allowing access to common area day-rooms for substantial periods of the day. Also, in Wolfish, some of the newly arrived prisoners were assigned to sleep on "cots" located in common areas until a cell became available. Wolfish at 526. The Court noted that both sentenced and pretrial detainees were subject to the conditions but less than one-half of the detainees were required to be "double-bunked." Wolfish at 525 n. 4.

[80] In Lareau v. Manson, 651 F.2d 96 (2d Cir. 1981), decided two weeks before Rhodes v. Chapman, the Second Circuit noted that Wolfish established a "stringent test for determining when overcrowding will amount to punishment." Lareau, supra, at 103. In upholding an injunction directed towards some of the challenged conditions at the Hartford Connecticut Community Holding Center, the court stated that for a due process violation to be found "it must be shown that the overcrowding subjects a [pretrial] detainee over an extended period to genuine privations and hardship not reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective." Lareau, supra, at 103. The court looked to whether the hardships inflicted by the conditions were reasonably related to any legitimate governmental objective including ensuring a detainee's presence for trial, maintaining security and order, and any measure having the tendency to promote efficient management of the detention facility. Lareau, supra, at 104. The court rejected as a justification for the hardships the "state's interest in housing more prisoners without creating more prison space." Lareau, supra, at 104.

[81] Applying this standard, the court found that the housing of nine prisoners in an all-purpose day room converted into a "dormitory," who were required to sleep on mattresses on the floor of the room which was so confining that the "inmates had to crawl over one another to reach the single toilet provided them" violated the prisoners' due process rights. Lareau at 99-100. With that number of prisoners, the "fishtank," as the room was called, provided less than twenty-three square feet of living space per prisoner. Lareau, supra, at 107. The other day-rooms at the Hartford Holding Center, ranging in size from 225 to 262 square feet, were used to provide eating and light recreational space for prisoners. The prisoners were "double-bunked" (i.e. two prisoners were required to sleep in a cell intended for one) in adjacent cells each providing sixty to sixty-five square feet of space, an area further reduced when a mattress for a second prisoner was placed on the floor of the cell to about thirty-six to forty-one square feet of space for both prisoners. Lareau, supra, at 99. Fifteen to twenty prisoners and sometimes as many as twenty-four prisoners at a time used these day rooms. Lareau, supra, at 99-100. Holding that the length of time a prisoner is exposed to a challenged condition must be considered in deciding whether the condition is unconstitutional, the court in Lareau limited confinement in the overcrowded cells and day rooms to thirty days for convicted persons and fifteen days for pretrial detainees. Lareau, supra, at 105. As to the conditions in the "fish-tank," the court stated that "the use of fishtank [and] floor mattresses . . ., however, are too egregious to warrant any such leeway" and that "they constitute punishment without regard to the number of days for which a prisoner is so confined." Lareau, supra, at 105. Regarding the fishtank, the court also observed that "forcing men to sleep on mattresses on the floors does not provide minimum decent housing under any circumstances for any period" except in the case of a "true emergency such as fire or riot." Lareau, supra, at 107-108. The strength of the Second Circuit's view on this issue is reflected in its sua sponte order of a 'blanket prohibition . . . against the quartering of inmates on mattresses on cell floors." Lareau, supra, at 109.

[82] The court also found that the prisoners assigned to the double-bunked cells and connected day-rooms were subjected to "extremely overcrowded" conditions, forcing inmates to sit on the floor to eat because of lack of table space. Lareau, supra, at 104. The court further stated that "when a detainee is subjected for a substantial length of time to the combination of double-bunked cells, overcrowded day-rooms and strained prison services at the HCCC, he is being unconstitutionally punished." Lareau, supra, at 105. At the time of the trial, the Hartford facility was being used to house 548 prisoners, 40 percent over the designed capacity of 390. Id., at 99. Three-fourths of the inmates were pretrial detainees and 67 percent were held in the overcrowded conditions for more than sixty days. Id., at 101-102.

[83] Turning to the question of whether the overcrowding and practice of double-bunking at the Hartford facility violated the Eighth Amendment rights of sentenced prisoners, the court in Lareau noted that the amount of square feet of living space available to prisoners at the facility was substantially less than the minima recommended by various professional groups, which ranged from eighty square feet per prisoner for those held continuously in a cell for more than ten hours per day to not less than fifty square feet of any confined sleeping area. Lareau, at 106-107. Relying on the Supreme Court's statement in Wolfish that these recommendations do not "establish the constitutional minima," but "may be instructive in certain cases," 441 U.S. at 543 n. 27, the court found that the combination of overcrowding in the cells and the related day rooms together with the resultant curtailment of services and inadequate security found to exist at the Hartford facility violated the Eighth Amendment rights of sentenced prisoners when imposed for any period in excess of thirty days. Lareau, supra, at 108-109.

[84] Applying these principles to the case at hand, the court finds that Plaintiffs have met their burden to show a likelihood of success as to the confinement of sentenced prisoners and pretrial detainees in the court hold rooms, the day rooms, the Bravo level resource room the atrium and chapel at the Holding Center. In the case of the court hold rooms and day rooms, the court finds that the combined effects of severe crowded daily living conditions, lack of adequate toilet facilities and prisoners living in locked down status constitutes both wanton infliction of pain and unjustified punishment. In the case of these areas and the atrium, chapel and resource room, the use of mats for sleeping on floors by prisoners violates both their Eighth Amendment and due process rights.

[85] As to the court hold rooms, the preponderance of the credible evidence shows that when the largest of these rooms, Court Hold # 7, is used it often houses ten to twenty prisoners with only one toilet, requiring all of the prisoners to use but one toilet. As noted, court hold room # 7 measures twenty-one by eighteen and one-half feet or about 388 square feet. Assuming occupancy by fifteen prisoners, a number supported by the record, the space provides about twenty-six square feet per prisoner, similar to the degree of excessive crowding condemned by the Second Circuit in Lareau. This results in some prisoners being subjected to being stepped on and urinated upon while sleeping, exposure to other prisoners defecating in the only available toilet while prisoners are taking meals seated on the floor, vomiting on the floor and in the toilet by prisoners who become sick and noxious odors caused by a combination of too many people in too little space. The crowded conditions at the Holding Center have admittedly forced the Defendants to curtail the availability of the jail's indoor gymnasium as an exclusively recreational area thus requiring the use of an outdoor area on the roof of the jail. While providing all prisoners with coats to enable them to tolerate the low temperature of the winter months and granting a daily recreational opportunity to all prisoners, the Defendants' own evidence shows, not surprisingly, a much lower level of use of the recreation period during the cold weather months. Moreover, unlike the podular cell areas, persons held in the court hold rooms, who are locked in at all times, have no access to connected common area or day-room activity area for light recreation or taking meals while seated at tables. Thus, the limited opportunity for recreation provided at the Holding Center does not sufficiently mitigate the deprivations of daily living requirements created by forced housing in the court hold and day rooms.

[86] The effect upon the prisoners who are confined in the court hold rooms is objectively severe. Dr. Liebergall described numerous instances where prisoners feigned suicide symptoms in order to be placed in the mental health evaluation unit notwithstanding its attendant requirement that prisoners are held in nude conditions as a special security measure. Moreover, the evidence shows that as a result of the cramped quarters, cold temperatures in the room, bright lights, bad odor and noise - all factors attributable to the overcrowded condition - prisoners have difficulty sleeping properly in these rooms, a basic daily living requirement.

[87] Also, the Second Circuit has directly held that forcing pretrial detainees to sleep on the floor on mattresses in a jail cell violates the due process clause without regard to the length of such a condition of confinement. The extremely confined living space in the court hold rooms causes prisoners to feel ill from exposure to bad odors and open toilets, so much so that many feign mental illness to obtain transfer for medical observation. Defendants have failed to assign a valid governmental objective that is reasonably related to the requirement that pretrial detainees be exposed to such conditions. Indeed, there is evidence that some guards at the Holding Center perceive housing in the court hold rooms as punishment. Based upon this record, the court finds that Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success at trial on the issue of whether the condition in the court hold rooms for pretrial detainees violates their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

[88] The weight of the credible testimony and other evidence plainly establishes that the conditions in the court hold rooms deprives prisoners of essential requirements of daily life without any corresponding justification reasonably related to a valid penological or other institutional interest serving the facility's purpose of detaining accused persons for trial. By any measure of comparison, the space provided in the court hold rooms is substantially less than the minima promulgated by the state Commission of Corrections in accordance with its mandate under a state statute. While these minima, like those suggested by various professional organizations do not define the minimal requirements for federal constitutional purposes, the fact that Defendants seek to comply with them as standards necessary to the protection of health, safety and security of the prisoners in Defendants' Holding Center, is persuasive evidence that the conditions presently under review do not adequately provide for the necessary requirements of daily living for the prisoners housed in the court hold rooms, and therefore constitute a basis to find a violation of the Eighth Amendment as to sentenced prisoners who may be housed in the court hold rooms.

[89] For example, Plaintiffs' Exhibit E is a copy of a directive from the Commission of Corrections to Defendants Higgins and Dray, and the County Executive and County Attorney of Defendant Erie County dated June 30, 1994. The directive states that the Commission had recently conducted site visits to the Holding Center and found the overcrowded conditions to be in violation of Section 7040.3 of its regulations which prohibits confining inmates in a corrections facility in excess of the maximum capacity of the facility which at that time was established at 596 "beds." Further, the Commission found the Holding Center in violation of Section 7040.7 of its regulations prohibiting housing inmates in the court hold "pens" which were unapproved by the Commission. The Commission noted it had brought these violations to the attention of Sheriff Higgins, a Defendant, and other officials in a series of meetings held in 1994 but that the officials, including Defendants Higgins and Dray, had "failed to remedy the deficiencies of their own accord." The Commission directed compliance with its regulations and specifically ordered Defendants to "depopulate" the "court holding pens" and house inmates in those areas in accordance with its regulations on minima housing requirements for inmates.

[90] Approximately nine months after Superintendent Dray had requested a variance from the Commission to increase the number of prisoners allowed to be housed in the day room dormitory areas, a request which was never approved, the Commission wrote to the Erie County Executive in February, 1996, that the Holding Center was housing "well over 800 inmates in a building designed to hold no more than 650" and that the author, Paul Shechtman, the Commission's Director of Criminal Justice, found that conditions at the Holding Center "are not ones consistent with State regulations or acceptable for the safety, security and health of staff or inmates." Exhibit L 3. The Commission again wrote to the County on May 21, 1996 pointed out that as of May 17, 1996, the inmate population at the Holding Center was at 814, "135 above the population cap imposed at the Holding Center by the Commission. At this crowding level, all of the most egregious conditions of confinement which originally prompted the Commission's Directive [limiting the Holding Center's capacity to 679 inmates] pertain." Letter from Edmund B. Wurtz, Commission Chairman to Deputy County Executive James P. Keane. Exhibit M. Although this communication does not specify whether it is intended to apply to all areas of the Holding Center, based on the record, it is reasonable to apply it to at least the court hold areas and day rooms.

[91] The testimony of the prisoners credibly described what Superintendent Dray himself acknowledged to be "inhumane" conditions in the court hold rooms including ten to twenty prisoners - locked-in twenty-four hours a day - in insufficient space, forced to eat on the floor on mattresses and sharing one exposed toilet for periods of up to one month. The resulting complete absence of privacy, interference with sleep, constant exposure to dirt and residue from sick prisoners, potential for contact with prisoners having infectious diseases, and exposure to noxious odor from human waste and rotting food occurring in a highly confined space for a substantial period of time all demonstrate that Plaintiffs have a strong likelihood of success on their Eighth Amendment claim with respect to serious deprivation of daily living requirements unrelated to any legitimate objective for pretrial confinement in the court hold areas.

[92] As to the other areas of the jail including the day rooms and the atrium, chapel and resource room, the court finds that, based upon the Second Circuit's decision in Lareau, Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of success in demonstrating that requiring prisoners to sleep on mattresses on the floor of cells in these areas, also constitutes a denial of due process. In the case of prisoners assigned to the day room dorm areas, the confined nature of these spaces, the lack of any modicum of personal privacy, and unsanctioned deviation from the state's own minimum housing standards for incarcerated persons for the additional prisoners added to these areas without the approval of the state Commission, warrants extending the prohibition against sleeping on mattresses imposed in Lareau to these areas. Although these areas like the court hold rooms are not physically speaking traditional jail cells, the absence of access to day activity rooms for prisoners in the linear days rooms, the chapel, and the resource room, who are always locked down, and the requirements that all prisoners housed in these so-called "dorms" use a single toilet, demonstrates that the day rooms are actually worse than housing in the regular cells in the jail. In the podular areas, prisoners assigned to the cells not only sleep on beds and take meals and light recreation at tables, but also have use of a private toilet. For those in the single linear cells, there is also some privacy and individual toilet facilities. For those in the day room dorms, the resource room and chapel, neither is made available.

[93] The testimony of prisoner Lee, a convicted felon, clearly establishes that housing in the regular cell area is substantially better than in the court hold rooms. Based upon the court's own observations, the same can fairly be said about the daily living conditions for the prisoners assigned to the days rooms. The same conclusion applies to the use of the chapel and atrium in which, although less confining in available physical living space than the day rooms, nevertheless prisoners are compelled to sleep upon the floor upon mattresses in these areas, a requirement which the Second Circuit found "egregious." Except as to the atrium, prisoners were also locked in at all times in the resource room and chapel without access to any common area or toilet facilities. Although the atrium is not always secured, the lack of access to any common area for prisoners housed there and their relative distance from toilet facilities, makes it sufficiently like a jail cell to warrant application to Lareau's prohibition on the use of floor mats.

[94] While a harsh condition, like forced living on the floor of cells or cell-like areas, may not alone support a violation, it may when considered in combination with another condition. The presence or absence of access to a true day-room for meals and light recreation can ameliorate the demonstrated negative effects upon prisoners of a highly restrictive living area for at least a limited period. Here, there is no provision for such ancillary space for the prisoners confined in these areas, thus, the severely limited living space available and the requirement of sleeping on floor mats becomes, as in the case of the court hold rooms, the basis for a due process and Eighth Amendment violation in the atrium, chapel and resource room areas of the Holding Center as to the continued requirement of forcing prisoners to sleep on the floor on mats.

[95] As to the use of the Holding Center's gymnasium for housing prisoners, while it may be arguable that the bedding of prisoners on the floor in that area also violates the holding in Lareau, the evidence shows that prisoners in this area are confined in an area measuring forty-three by fifty-eight feet providing approximately fifty square feet of space per prisoner. Part of the gymnasium is also used for tables and chairs constituting a large common area. There is reasonable access to two private toilets facilities. Significantly, there was no testimony from any witness suggesting any adverse effect upon the daily living requirements of those prisoners assigned to this area. For example, prisoners assigned to the gym share the use of two toilets, located in nearby lavatories which do not expose the other prisoners to human waste, odors or noise while sleeping or while taking meals when the toilets are in use. Further, Dr. Liebergall's testimony concerning the extreme efforts by some prisoners to avoid incarceration in the court hold rooms did not extend to housing in the gymnasium. Moreover, these prisoners are given an opportunity for daily outdoor recreation which, if utilized, can somewhat ameliorate the effects of the group living arrangement in the gymnasium. Prisoners there, as elsewhere in the jail, also have access to the prison library, and there was no evidence presented suggesting these or any prisoners assigned to the linear or podular cells do not receive adequate medical care, food or other basic necessities.

[96] Further, while the living conditions in the gymnasium and other areas may create added strain on guards, there was no evidence that security in the Holding Center is generally inadequate or that there is a serious risk of harm to prisoners as a result of the additional burden placed on the guards associated with the general overcrowded conditions which prevail in the Holding Center. Accordingly, based on the present record, the court finds that Plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success as to their Eighth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment claims as to the present confinement in the gymnasium, nor does the court find that the direction of the Second Circuit prohibiting use of mattresses for prisoners sleeping on the floors of cells is, on this record, applicable to this area of the Holding Center. Significantly, the minimum living areas granted prisoners at the Erie County Correctional Facility are substantially better than that provided prisoners in these areas of the Holding Center.

[97] In sum, the excessively restrictive living areas provided in the court hold rooms and day rooms deprive prisoners of the necessities of daily living without justification in relationship to any reasonable penological objective or purpose of pretrial confinement. As a result of Defendants' failure to provide more reasonable daily living conditions, these makeshift housing areas are unnecessarily severe and provide the basis for finding that they constitute, as to sentenced prisoners, a cruel and unusual punishment and as to pretrial detainees, an arbitrary form of punishment without due process.

[98] As to the Plaintiffs' claim of cruel and unusual punishment for sentenced prisoners, the evidence shows that, as with pretrial detainees confined in the court hold rooms, Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success that confinement in these areas constitutes a deprivation of the minimum requirements of daily living thereby inflicting pain without regard to any advancing valid penological objectives. Accordingly, as discussed, preliminary relief shall also be granted against the confinement of sentenced prisoners on floor mats in these areas. Further, as in Lareau, the use of such a confined area providing prisoners with only one exposed toilet for the use of as many as fifteen persons or more without any access to a day-room for the taking of meals or light recreation satisfies Plaintiffs' burden on their Eighth Amendment claim. In Lareau, the court refused to enjoin housing of a prisoner in area providing thirty square feet of living space in double-bunked cells where the prisoner had access to other areas such as a day-room, albeit a crowded one, library and, on a limited basis, a gymnasium provided that such housing did not exceed thirty days for sentenced prisoners and fifteen days for pretrial detainees. Plaintiffs have, therefore, shown a likelihood of success as to their Eighth Amendment claims for sentenced prisoners held in the court hold rooms and the day rooms at the Holding Center, areas without access to any common area to ameliorate the effects of living in the severely restrictive housing conditions without adequate toilet facilities in these areas.

[99] In Lareau, the court found that requiring as many as nine prisoners to share one toilet in one small room was prohibited by both the Eighth Amendment and due process considerations, but approved one toilet for two prisoners who were double-bunked in a cell who also had access to an additional toilet located in the adjacent day-room shared by up to twelve prisoners. Here, the access by prisoners to a full range of physical recreation such as the use of the gymnasium is limited by the fact that the gymnasium is also used for temporary housing. The evidence shows that all prisoners are given daily opportunities for outdoor physical recreation, but this recreation is, however, effectively limited in the colder months. Therefore, the limited recreational opportunity does not sufficiently ameliorate the adverse effects of prolonged confinement in the court holds and day-rooms areas, nor does it overcome the lack of adequate toilet facilities and the ability of the prisoner to eat his or her meal from a table rather than while seated on a bed or the floor in close proximity to an exposed toilet which may be used at the same time, in the court hold rooms and day rooms.

[100] Although Rhodes v. Chapman held that requiring more prisoners to sleep in a cell beyond its design capacity is not necessarily unconstitutional, the Court also required that other conditions of confinement favorably effect a prisoner's daily living be considered. Here, the day rooms house prisoners in an area which, like the court hold rooms, was not originally intended for housing prisoners. The available living space for prisoners housed in these areas is substantially below the minima established by the Commission. For example, the day room on the Alpha level provides approximately thirty-five feet of space per prisoner, the day room on the Bravo level provides fifty-nine square feet; on the Echo level, the two day rooms are severely cramped, allowing only sixteen square feet per prisoner. In the Echo day rooms, as many as fifteen prisoners are required to share one toilet. Two day rooms on the Foxtrot level provide forty-three square feet per prisoner; two other rooms provide approximately twenty-four square feet per prisoner. As noted, for multiple housing of prisoners, the Commission requires a minimum of fifty square feet of sleeping space, with one toilet, shower and sink for each eight prisoners along with an adjacent common area or day room.

[101] Thus, the record supports the finding that exposure to adverse living conditions created by housing prisoners in the court hold rooms and day rooms creates a risk of serious harm to the health and safety of prisoners confined to these areas based on the deprivation of daily living requirements of an adequate place to sleep, eat and the use of inadequate toilet facilities.

[102] The court also finds that Plaintiffs have sustained their burden on the subjective requirement that Plaintiffs establish that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs' rights, prerequisite for preliminary relief as to the confinement of prisoners in the court hold areas and day rooms. As the correspondence between the state Commission of Corrections and Defendants demonstrates, Defendants have been well aware that the conditions now challenged have existed as to the court hold rooms at least since June, 1994 and as to the day rooms since Defendants requested a variance from the Commission's requirements in June, 1995 in order to increase the number of prisoners housed in the day room dormitories. Although the record does not indicate precisely when the use of the court hold rooms for housing pretrial detainees was commenced, Superintendent Dray testified that serious overcrowding problems at the Holding Center have existed at least since 1989. Superintendent Dray also acknowledged that the record does support the finding that prisoners at the Holding Center have been so confined since well before any of the Plaintiffs were incarcerated at the jail. Indeed, in recent correspondence from the Commission to the Defendant County of Erie the Commission threatened to seek "judicial intervention" if the county failed to expeditiously propose a plan to "address the problem [of conditions at the Holding Center]." Exhibit L 3. Such evidence provides a basis for the finding that Defendants therefore had knowledge that the highly restrictive living conditions in violation of state regulations had the capability of inflicting punishment without trial in violation of the Due Process Clause and that their failure to act deprived prisoners of a requirement of daily life without penological justification thereby causing a wanton infliction of pain constituting a cruel and unusual punishment. Significantly, Dray himself had described conditions in the court hold rooms as "inhumane" a year ago. In a partial explanation for the cause of the overcrowding, Defendants stated that they were required by state law to accept any persons who because of their convicted or parole violation status should have been transferred to a state facility thereby contributing to the overcrowding at the Holding Center. However, like the argument that a defendant was prevented from corrective action because of a lack of available funding, such a rationale for inaction if accepted as a defense would always render a prison or jail official exempt from liability on an Eighth Amendment or due process violation claim. In any event, Defendants do not contend that such a statement of causes or lack of funding negates a finding of the subjective element of Plaintiffs' due process or Eighth Amendment claim. See Wilson v. Seiter, supra, at 301. Rather, the record supports a finding that Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on whether Defendants' acted with deliberate difference to Plaintiffs' rights. The evidence shows Defendants had knowledge of serious risks to the health, safety and daily living requirement of prisoners housed in the court hold rooms and day rooms and failed for over two years to take action to avoid it.

[103] The remaining questions which under, Rhodes and Lareau, must also be answered is, assuming bunk beds or cots are provided to all prisoners in these areas, what, if any, limits on occupancy and the duration of confinement have Plaintiffs demonstrated should be placed on the Defendants housing of prisoners in these areas. Plaintiffs did not present any expert testimony directly relating to serious threats to the health or safety of prisoners in these areas. However, courts are entitled to use "common sense" and "observation" in addressing these issues. Rhodes, at 367 n. 16 (concurring opinion). Here, the Defendants have acknowledged that the Commission standards are to be followed and any deviations therefrom in the housing of prisoners under their care and custody must be approved in the form of variances granted by the Commission. The court finds the Commission's minimum standards for housing prisoners in multiple occupancy circumstances, or fifty square feet per prisoner, with a minimum of one toilet and sink for each eight prisoners to be a reasonable requirement to provide minimum requirements of daily living for any prisoner in the Holding Center to be confined either as sentenced prisoners or pretrial detainees. While these standards do not in themselves necessarily a constitutional requirement, they do serve to instruct the court on what minimum housing requirements are needed to protect prisoners against constitutional deprivations in the particular circumstances of the Holding Center. To hold a convicted person or pretrial detainee in an area affording living space about five feet by ten feet sharing access to a common toilet with seven other persons is fairly spartan. In practical effect, it will, however, and in conjunction with the prohibition against use of mats for sleeping in these areas, undoubtedly result in reducing the number of prisoners assigned to the court hold and day rooms.

[104] The question of what period, if any, of time Defendants may house prisoners in either the court hold rooms or day rooms without complying with these requirements is a more difficult question. In Lareau, the court established, under the particular facts, maximum limits of thirty days for sentenced prisoners and fifteen days for pretrial detainees. But those limits were established under circumstances where the prisoner, although confined in sleeping areas with less than fifty square feet, had access to an adjacent day room. Here the prisoners assigned to these areas do not have access to any common living areas. Indeed, those in linear section day rooms are locked-in at all times and in the other areas for substantial periods of time during the day.

[105] Considering all of the relevant factors, the court finds that for any prisoners to be confined to the court hold rooms or the day rooms, no prisoner whether a pre-trial detainee or sentenced prisoner may be held without being given a suitable bed, either a reasonably comfortable bunk bed or cot, along with suitable bedding and a blanket. Additionally, in the atrium, chapel and resource room, housing prisoners on mats is prohibited.

[106] Except in the case of true emergencies as described in Lareau, housing of sentenced prisoners in the court hold rooms or day rooms for sleeping and daily living may be permitted without adhering to the minimum living space and related toilet facility requirements stated in this decision for no more than a total of five days, except in the case of a true emergency; for pretrial detainees any confinement to these areas absent compliance with the above requirements which exceeds in total twenty-four hours will constitute a violation of their rights to due process, except in the case of a true emergency.

[107] Although the court has the authority to immediately enjoin any confinement of prisoners at the Holding Center which fail to comply completely with the requirements established in this decision, the Supreme Court has recently encouraged courts to provide prison officials found to maintain unconstitutional confinement conditions with a reasonable opportunity to "rectify" a violation before an injunction is entered. Farmer, supra, at 1984.

[108] During the hearing on Plaintiffs' motion, the court has been made aware of Defendants' efforts to resolve the issue of overcrowding at the Holding Center through litigation against the state in the New York Supreme Court thereby manifesting an apparent intention to seek resolution of the problem. Based on this information, and the practical problems which Defendants would necessarily encounter in effecting immediate compliance with this decision the court finds Defendants should be given a reasonable opportunity to rectify the confinement conditions, determined here to be subject to preliminary relief, before entry of a formal order. Accordingly, entry of a formal preliminary injunction in accordance with the foregoing will be stayed for a period of sixty days to permit Defendants to achieve voluntary compliance with the requirements for confinement of prisoners at the Holding Center as determined by this decision.


[110] Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part. The parties shall meet with the court on October 28, 1996 at 2:00 p.m. to schedule further proceedings in this matter.




[114] Dated: October 3rd, 1996

[115] Buffalo, New York

Opinion Footnotes

[116] *fn1 As no transcript was ordered by the parties, the facts are based upon the court's notes, recollection of the testimony, exhibits and stipulations.

[117] *fn2 According to Exhibit L8, court hold # 5 is eleven feet by sixteen feet; court hold # 7 measures twenty-one feet by eighteen and one-half feet. Court hold # 6 is eight feet by fourteen and one-half feet.