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Alabama Prison Conditions Unconstitutional

A district court in Alabama declared the conditions of confinement in
Alabama state prisons unconstitutionally cruel and unusual in a class-
action suit. The court ordered that: (1) prison populations be reduced to
design capacity; (2) isolation prisoners be single-celled with not less
than 40 square feet of cell space; (3) isolation cells be equipped with a
flush toilet and a sink with hot and cold running water; (4) ventilation
and lighting in isolation cells be improved to meet minimum standards of
U. S. Public Health Service; (5) isolation prisoners be given clean linen,
a bed off the floor, an opportunity to bathe at least every other day,
daily three wholesome meals served with utensils, the same toiletries and
linen as general population prisoners, reading and writing materials, 30
minutes of outdoor exercise per day, adequate medical and mental health
care and be allowed to keep personal legal materials; (6) no isolation
prisoners be deprived of physical aids or prosthetic devices; and (7) that
isolation only be used as a punishment following due process proceedings.
See: Pugh v. Locke, 406 F.Supp. 318 (M.D. AL, 1976).

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Related legal case

Pugh v. Locke

406 F.Supp. 318

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division.

Jerry Lee PUGH, for himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,


Judson C. LOCKE, Jr., individually and in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Board of Corrections, et al., Defendants.

WILCOX COUNTY COMMISSION, as the governing body of the County of Wilcox, State of Alabama, and all other counties similarly situated, and Association of County Commissions of Alabama, a voluntary association, Intervening Ancillary Plaintiffs,


Melba Till ALLEN, individually and as State Treasurer, State of Alabama, et al., Ancillary Defendants, Ira DeMent, United States Attorney, Amicus Curiae.
Worley JAMES et al., Plaintiffs,


George C. WALLACE, individually and in his official capacity as Governor of Alabama, et al., Defendants.

WILCOX COUNTY COMMISSION, as the governing body of the County of Wilcox, State of Alabama, and all other counties similarly situated, and Association of County Commissions of Alabama, a voluntary association, Intervening Ancillary Plaintiffs,


Melba Till ALLEN, individually and as State Treasurer, State of Alabama, et al., Ancillary Defendants, The National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Inc., and Ira DeMent, United States Attorney, Amici Curiae.

Civ. A. Nos. 74-203-N, 74-57-N.

Jan. 13, 1976.
*321 Robert D. Segall, Hobbs, Copeland, Franco & Screws and Joseph J. Levin, Jr., Montgomery, Ala., for plaintiffs Pugh.
William J. Baxley, Atty. Gen., Larry R. Newman, Asst. Atty. Gen., State of Ala., and Robert S. Lamar, Jr., Special Asst. Atty. Gen., Ball, Ball, Matthews & Lamar, Montgomery, Ala., for defendants and ancillary defendants.
James W. Webb, Montgomery, Ala., for intervening ancillary plaintiffs.
Ira DeMent, U. S. Atty., and Kenneth E. Vines, Asst. U. S. Atty., M. D. Ala., Montgomery, Ala., for amicus curiae.
George Peach Taylor, University, Ala., for plaintiffs James et al.
Matthew L. Myers and Alvin J. Bronstein, Washington, D. C., and Ralph I. Knowles, Jr., University, Ala., for amicus The National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, Inc.

JOHNSON, Chief Judge.
In these consolidated class actions,FN1 plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201 and 2202. This Court, as authorized by Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, incorporates in this memorandum opinion the appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law.
FN1. These class actions were consolidated on June 27, 1975, and tried together. Following trial of these cases, the pleadings in Pugh were amended to conform to the evidence, and the relief requested is now essentially identical to that requested in James. Consequently, this order will be entered in both cases. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(b).
The Court finds that these actions are maintainable as class actions under Federal Rule 23(a) and (b)(2). The class is composed of all persons presently confined by the Alabama Board of Corrections or who may be so confined in the future. The Court finds that the class is so numerous that joinder is impracticable; that the questions of law and fact presented by the named plaintiffs are common to the class, as are the claims presented by the class representatives; and that the competent representation provided the named plaintiffs will adequately protect the interests of the class as a whole. The Court further finds that the defendants in both cases have acted and refused to act on grounds applicable to the class, for which both declaratory and injunctive relief are appropriate. The defendants, sued in their individual and official capacities, are the Governor of Alabama, the Commissioner of the Alabama Board of Corrections,FN2 the Deputy Commissioner of the Alabama Board of Corrections, the members of the Board of Corrections, the Warden of Kilby Corrections Facility,FN3 and the Warden of G.K. Fountain Correctional Center. The predecessors in office of these defendants, who were sued in their individual and official capacities, are retained as individual defendants. The Court has also had the able assistance of United States Attorney Ira DeMent and the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, as amici curiae.
FN2. The original defendant, Commissioner L. B. Sullivan, left office during the pendency of these actions. His successor, Judson C. Locke, Jr., replaces Sullivan as a defendant. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d).
FN3. Kilby Corrections Facility was formerly Mt. Meigs Medical and Diagnostic Center. The name of the institution was changed by Act of the Alabama Legislature during the pendency of these actions.
The complaint in Pugh v. Locke was originally filed by an inmate of G. K. Fountain Correctional Center on February 26, 1974. The amended complaint was filed by court-appointed counsel on April 16, 1974, seeking declaratory, injunctive*322 and monetary relief for the alleged failure of defendants to adequately protect the plaintiff class from violence on the part of other inmates. The complaint was filed on behalf of a class composed of all inmates of the state penal system who have been or may be confined to G.K. Fountain Correctional Center and who have been, are, or may be subjected to such violence. At the request of plaintiffs, the claims for monetary damages were severed by order of June 27, 1975. The action proceeded on the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The original complaint in James v. Wallace was filed on June 21, 1974. An amended complaint was filed thereafter on July 29, 1974, by court-appointed counsel. That complaint, on behalf of all inmates incarcerated in state penal institutions, essentially alleges that defendants fail to provide adequate rehabilitation opportunities for inmates, maintain conditions in these institutions which make rehabilitation impossible, and provide the opportunities that do exist in an unequal manner- all in violation of plaintiffs' Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
After extensive pretrial discovery by parties and amici curiae, the cases were heard beginning August 20, 1975, in a trial that lasted seven days. Because many facts were stipulated, the evidence at the trial consisted largely of expert testimony. The cases are now submitted on evidence offered at trial, depositions, exhibits, photographs, briefs and over 1,000 stipulated facts. The trial concluded with the admission by defendants' lead counsel, in open court, that the evidence conclusively established aggravated and existing violations of plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights.
The Alabama Board of Corrections (hereinafter the Board) is charged with the responsibility for managing the state's penal institutions.FN4 The Board currently operates four large institutions for male inmates- Holman Unit Prison, G.K. Fountain Correctional Center, Draper Correctional Center, and Kilby Corrections Facility. Kilby also contains the hospital facility for all state prisoners and the classification center for male inmates. The Board also maintains Julia Tutwiler Prison for women and the Frank Lee Youth Center for young men.FN5 Additionally, there are six road camps, one pre-release center, and eight work-release centers. Currently the inmate population of these institutions is in excess of 5,000.
FN4. Ala. Code tit. 45, Secs. 3, 10(1) (1958).
FN5. To be eligible for assignment to Frank Lee Youth Center an inmate must be no more than 23 years old, must have a sentence of less than 10 years, must not have been convicted of a crime involving violence, and must have no history of drug abuse.

The four principal institutions are horrendously overcrowded. At the time of the trial of these cases the prison population in these four institutions was as follows:

Maximum number for designed / in custody:
Fountain 632
Over 1100
Holman 540
Over 750
Draper 632
Over 1000
Kilby 503
Over 700

The overcrowded condition of these institutions is the subject of another class action, McCray v. Sullivan, 399 F.Supp. 271 (S.D.Ala.1975). Following the close of evidence in the instant cases, a joint interim order was entered by this Court and the McCray court, enjoining the defendants from accepting any new prisoners, except escapees and parole violators, into these four institutions until the population in each is reduced to design capacity. FN6 The purpose of that emergency order was to prevent aggravation of the conditions created by the grave Eighth Amendment violations.
FN6. Order of August 29, 1975.
The effects of severe overcrowding are heightened by the dormitory living arrangements*323 which prevail in these institutions. Bunks often are packed together so closely that there is no walking space between them. Sanitation and security are impossible to maintain. There was testimony that the quarantine population at KilbyFN7 is so crowded that inmates have to sleep on mattresses spread on floors in hallways and next to urinals. As will be noted, overcrowding is primarily responsible for and exacerbates all the other ills of Alabama's penal system.
FN7. Kilby is the receiving center for inmates being processed in and out of state prisons. New inmates are kept in quarantine for approximately six weeks. Kilby also maintains a permanent population of approximately 150.
The dilapidation of the physical facilities contributes to extremely unsanitary living conditions. Testimony demonstrated that windows are broken and unscreened, creating a serious problem with mosquitoes and flies. Old and filthy cotton mattresses lead to the spread of contagious diseases and body lice. Nearly all inmates' living quarters are inadequately heated and ventilated. The electrical systems are totally inadequate, exposed wiring poses a constant danger to the inmates, and insufficient lighting results in eye strain and fatigue.
In general, Alabama's penal institutions are filthy. There was repeated testimony at trial that they are overrun with roaches, flies, mosquitoes, and other vermin. A public health expert testified that he found roaches in all stages of development- a certain indicator of filthy conditions. This gross infestation is due in part to inadequate maintenance and housekeeping procedures, and in part to the physical structure of the buildings themselves. For example, floors in many shower rooms are so porous that it is impossible to keep them clean. Plumbing facilities are in an exceptional state of disrepair. In one area at Draper, housing well over 200 men, there is one functioning toilet. Many toilets will not flush and are overflowing. Some showers cannot be turned off and continually drip or even pour water. Frequently there is no hot running water for substantial periods of time. Witnesses repeatedly commented on the overpowering odor emanating from these facilities.
Personal hygiene is an insurmountable problem in these circumstances. The parties stipulated that the state supplies prisoners only with razor blades and soap. It was further stipulated that the state furnished no toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, shaving cream, razors or combs; but that such items are available for those inmates who can afford them. Further, household cleaning supplies rarely are available for inmates to maintain their living areas.

Food service conditions are equally unsanitary. Food is improperly stored in dirty storage units, and is often infested with insects. Mechanical dishwashers are not adequately maintained and therefore do not even approach the minimum temperature required for proper sanitation. Moreover, food service personnel, many of whom are inmates, are often untrained and do not follow proper sanitation procedures in the handling and preparation of food. Inmates are not supplied with reasonable eating and drinking utensils; some inmates drink from used tin cans, and have to wash and save their own utensils from meal to meal. Garbage sits in large open drums throughout the dining halls. As a general rule, the food is unappetizing and unwholesome. Inmates with some source of funds may supplement their diets from the prison canteen, but the large majority must subsist only on what is supplied by the kitchen. One menu is prepared for all inmates who require a special diet, regardless of whether it meets their particular needs.
One expert witness, a United States public health officer, toured facilities at Draper, Fountain, Holman, and Kilby. He testified at trial that he found these facilities wholly unfit for human habitation according to virtually every criterion*324 used for evaluation by public health inspectors. With very few exceptions, his testimony was that, if such facilities were under his jurisdiction, he would recommend that they be closed and condemned as an imminent danger to the health of the individuals exposed to them. This Court credits this testimony and makes it a part of these findings.

There is no working classification system in the Alabama penal system, and the degree to which this impedes the attainment of any proper objectives of a penal system cannot be overstated. Although classification personnel throughout the state prisons have been attempting to implement a wholly new classification process established in January, 1975, understaffing and overcrowding have produced a total breakdown of that process. For no valid reason apparent from the evidence, far too many inmates receive maximum security classifications under the present classification system. Moreover, during what is called the classification process, new inmates, who are already trying to adjust to the new environment of the prison, are restricted to the overcrowded living quarters and are permitted neither visitors nor recreation. Testing and evaluation of these individuals, essential to a working classification system, cannot be regarded as reliable or even useful when conducted under such traumatic and stressful conditions.
Prison officials do not dispute the evidence that most inmates are assigned to the various institutions, to particular dormitories, and to work assignments almost entirely on the basis of available space. Consequently, the appreciable percentage of inmates suffering from some mental disorder is unidentified, and the mentally disturbed are dispersed throughout the prison population without receiving treatment. This Court previously found in an Alabama prison system case that approximately 10 percent of the inmate population are psychotic, and that another 60 percent are disturbed enough to require treatment.FN8 The evidence in the instant cases clearly reflects that nothing has been done to alleviate this situation. Some of these inmates should, according to the undisputed evidence presented in these cases, be transferred to a facility for the criminally insane, and many others should be treated within the penal system. The evidence further reflects that there are also a number of mentally retarded inmates who need to be, according to any humanitarian concept, identified and placed in an appropriate environment. A 1972 study prepared by the University of Alabama Center for Correctional Psychology, under contract with the Board of Corrections, highlighted the woefully inadequate mental health program in Alabama prisons and suggested minimum standards. None of these recommended standards have been implemented. The findings and conclusions of that study are fully supported by the evidence in these cases.
FN8. Newman v. Alabama, 349 F.Supp. 278 (M.D.Ala.1972), aff'd in part503 F.2d 1320 (5th Cir. 1974), cert. denied421 U.S. 948, 95 S.Ct. 1680, 44 L.Ed.2d 102 (1975).
Further effects of failure to classify are manifold. Violent inmates are not isolated from those who are young, passive, or weak. Consequently, the latter inmates are repeatedly victimized by those who are stronger and more aggressive. Testimony shows that robbery, rape, extortion, theft and assault are everyday occurrences among the general inmate population. Rather than face this constant danger, some inmates voluntarily subject themselves to the inhuman conditions of prison isolation cells.
Emotional and physical disabilities which require special attention pass unnoticed. There is no rational basis on which to assign inmates to the few vocational, educational and work opportunities which do exist. All of this contributes to the apathy, tension and frustration which pervade Alabama prisons.
The inmate population also contains a number of aged and infirm who are often housed in dormitories in which conditions are particularly hazardous. There *325 are no special programs to meet the needs of these people and they are frequently unprotected from the general population. For example, in Draper such prisoners- some of them confined to wheelchairs, others scarcely able to move without help- are left without supervision in second-floor quarters that are accessible only by stairway, with no means of evacuation in the event of fire or other physical emergency, and utterly helpless in the event of the sort of medical emergency to which the elderly are susceptible. In this idleness, filth and despair, the condition of these inmates can be expected only to deteriorate further.
Each of these failings in Alabama's penal system is compounded by that system's most pervasive and most obvious problem: the overcrowding with which all prisoners must live. Yet even if the inmate population were reduced to design capacity, the system would still be woefully understaffed. Former Commissioner Sullivan testified that the four large institutions alone need, at a minimum, 692 guards, but that they currently employ only 383. Guards rarely enter the cell blocks and dormitories, especially at night when their presence is most needed. The extremely high inmate-to-staff ratio makes personal interaction between the two virtually impossible because staff members must spend all their time attempting to maintain control or to protect themselves.
Another result of understaffing is that some inmates have been allowed to assume positions of authority and control over other inmates, creating opportunities for blackmail,bribery, and extortion. Some prisoners are used as 'strikers' to guard other inmates on farm duty and as 'cell flunkies' to maintain order and perform tasks for prison staff. They are afforded special privileges, including freedom to ignore prison regulations and to abuse other inmates. Inmate clerks have access to the institutional files and mail of other inmates; inmate medical aides are used to dispense some medication, which they may withhold at will.

The problems posed by understaffing are aggravated by the fact that most of the large institutions are located in rural areas of the state. The guards, drawn largely from the local population, are practically all white and rural in contrast to the predominantly black and urban inmate population they supervise. A number of witnesses testified that staff members address black inmates with racial slurs, further straining already tense relations.

In view of the foregoing, the rampant violence and jungle atmosphere existing throughout Alabama's penal institutions are no surprise. The evidence reflects that most prisoners carry some form of homemade or contraband weapon, which they consider to be necessary for self-protection. Shakedowns to remove weapons are neither sufficiently thorough nor frequent enough to significantly reduce the number of weapons. There are too few guards to prevent outbreaks of violence, or even to stop those which occur.

While it is clear that violence is widespread, there are no accurate statistics on the incidence of violence. A cardinal precept of the convict culture is that no inmate should report another inmate to officials. This reluctance to report violence is compounded by the failure of prison officials to keep accurate records of violence which does come to their attention.

One 20-year-old inmate, after relating that he has been told by medical experts that he has the mind of a five year old, testified that he was raped by a group of inmates on the first night he spent in an Alabama prison. On the second night he was almost strangled by two other inmates who decided instead that they could use him to make a profit, selling his body to other inmates.