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Collect Call Phone System Doesn't Violate Right to Court Access

A federal district court in Tennessee held that no constitutional violation occurred when a Tennessee prison replaced its coin operated phones with a coinless, collect call only phone system. Lawsuit was brought in context of access to counsel and courts. The ruling notes that the rates charged on both types of phones were identical to the rates charged to non prisoners. Case cites numerous cases involving prisoner phone access. See: Wooden v. Norris, 637 F. Supp. 543 (MD TN 1986).

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Wooden v. Norris

Vermin are present throughout North and South Blocks. Bed bugs and mice are endemic. Torn mattresses shelter mites, fleas and lice. A sizable bird population has entered the blocks through broken windows and now nests in pipes near the ceiling. The birds drop feces on the floors and railings and "[a]t times, the waste material from birds has been so dense that it has virtually covered the cell block windows." Id.

The plumbing is also inadequate. The prison is filled with leaks and puddles; septic water leaking from the shower drains stands in the basement. Most of the toilets in the cells are old and cracked. Urine sediment has accumulated in the cracks causing noxious odors. Urine also accumulates on the rough concrete walls which are difficult to clean. The seals at the bottom of many toilets have dried out, causing floods in the cells. When plumbing repairs are made, "the toilets in the affected cells are unusable, resulting in the accumulation of human waste for as long as 2 days." Id. at 1266.

According to the district court, the shower facilities pose "one of the most serious problems in the institution." First, there are an inadequate number, in North Block only one for every 33 inmates and in South block only one for every 62 inmates. Thus, *424 each inmate can shower three times a week at most. Second, the showers are poorly maintained. Many showers are broken, either not working at all or running continuously. Furthermore, "[t]he showers are encrusted with dirt, """ slime has accumulated in the chronically wet areas," and the smell of putrid water is inescapable. Id. at 1266. The district court judge, having inspected the shower area, "wondered how any inmate could tolerate the physical conditions of the shower long enough to wash himself." Id. at 1266-67. The most serious problem the district court identified with the showers was lack of security. They are not supervised by a guard and thus weaker inmates fear to enter them; instead they take " 'bird baths' from the sinks in their cells." Id. at 1266.

Fire safety in North and South Blocks is poor. Although there are fire extinguishers sufficient to battle small fires, there is no equipment for detecting or fighting major conflagrations. The smoke exhaust fans in use do not adequately protect from smoke inhalation. The lack of fire safety equipment is exacerbated by the high concentration of combustible materials in storage areas and in the housing units. In the cells, mattresses, stored personal belongings, and items hanging from the ceilings allow for the rapid spread of fire. One expert testified that South Block has "the highest degree of 'combustible loading' " he had seen during his studies of over 80 prisons. Id. at 1278.
If a fire were to occur, evacuation would be difficult. Because there is no master system for unlocking cells, each cell would have to be individually unlocked, a process that would take at least 12 minutes in ideal conditions. It would take at least an additional three minutes for inmates to exit one of the two doors on the block. However, the block could be entirely filled with smoke within only two or three minutes. Furthermore, it is likely that the evacuation would be chaotic and dangerous. The district court heard testimony that during an evacuation in a 1987 fire, officers left the building as soon as the cells were unlocked, and unsupervised inmates blocked the exits and committed assaults. An expert witness concluded that the poor level of fire protection made it likely that numerous inmates would die if a serious fire broke out.

Medical and psychiatric treatment are also shockingly deficient. There is insufficient staff to treat the increasing number of inmates incarcerated at SCIP, medication is not properly administered, serious illnesses such as AIDS are not diagnosed, inmates with severe mental illnesses are not segregated from the rest of the population, and the area where psychiatric care is given is "in shambles." Id. at 1303.

It is within this squalid, dangerous and overcrowded environment that double-celling takes place. Double-celling was instituted because the rapid increase in the prison population during the last decade has been coupled with chronic understaffing. Experts testified that housing inmates in such tight quarters has negative physical and psychological effects, including increased spread of disease, stress, anxiety and depression.

The district court found that these problems are exacerbated by SCIP's inefficient inmate classification system. SCIP procedures provide that an inmate should not be double-celled if he exhibits assaultive, aggressive or sexual behavior problems or has serious psychiatric or medical impairments. Clinic staff evaluate and classify inmates when they first arrive at SCIP. Because the clinic is overcrowded, inmates are sometimes double-celled before they are evaluated. Furthermore, the clinic relies on information provided by the inmate to determine suitability for double-celling. Inmates do not always disclose negative traits and are double-celled. Once an inmate is classified, his classification is to be recorded for the housing office. Such records have not been kept since October 1987. Not surprisingly, "[t]he record is replete with instances where an inmate has been double-celled even though his propensity for violence, emotional instability, primitive personal hygiene habits or past encounters with a designated cell partner clearly dictated that he should be single-celled." Id. at 1267.

*425 Because of overcrowding, inmates in protective custody are sometimes housed with inmates in administrative custody, a status reserved for inmates who threaten themselves or others. This practice, is, in the words of one expert witness, tantamount to "putting the chickens in the fox's lair." Id. at 1268 (quoting testimony of E. Eugene Miller).
The record before the district court contained numerous examples of the effects of unsuitable double-celling. See, e.g., App. at 1251-55 (testimony of Lieutenant James McFetridge) (inmate forced to double-cell with disturbed inmate who refused to take medication to control his illness, who refused to shower for six months and was infested with lice); App. at 1331-1334 (testimony of inmate James Jones) (witness assaulted cellmate); App. at 1344-55 (testimony of inmate John Matthews) (witness assaulted three times by cellmate after having told administrators his cellmate was threatening him; he was raped by one cellmate); App. at 1369-70 (testimony of inmate Robert Anderson) (witness double-celled with mentally ill inmate who put the witness' bedding in the sink and stood on the toilet all night); App. at 1464 (testimony of inmate Charles Oliver) (witness double-celled with inmate who constantly paced and talked to himself).
Based on this record and its findings of fact, the district court concluded that SCIP was unconstitutionally overcrowded and that sanitation, lighting, shower conditions, ventilation, inmate security, fire safety and health care fell below constitutional requirements.FN3 The court believed that conditions fell so far below the constitutional norms that it would be within its power to order the entire facility closed. However, heeding the Supreme Court's teaching that courts should avoid intruding in the operation of state governments and should formulate the least intrusive remedial measures necessary to correct the constitutional harm, see, e.g., Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 280-81, 97 S.Ct. 2749, 2757-58, 53 L.Ed.2d 745 (1977), the district court devised a careful remedial order which left much to the discretion of state officials. Although the court provided a detailed analysis of what steps need to be taken to correct the identified deficiencies in understaffing, overcrowding, sanitation, security, fire safety and health care, it left to defendants the task of formulating and presenting to the court their plan for remedying the constitutional violations. In only three areas did the court order immediate action instead of relying on defendants to formulate a plan. Defendants were ordered immediately to begin random cell searches, to separate administrative and disciplinary segregation inmates, and to halt the practice of double-celling which the district court suggested could be done by hiring additional corrections officers to guard the now vacant tiers of cells. The only exception to the prohibition of double-celling was that inmates who request to share a cell may do so.FN4

FN3. The district court also made findings concerning inmates' access to the courts and held that the access provided was constitutionally deficient. Because those findings have not been shown to have had a direct impact on the issue presented here, we will not discuss them.
FN4. Defendants were ordered to end the practice of double-celling by March 1, 1990. The district court later enlarged the time for compliance until June 30, 1990.



On appeal, the defendants do not take issue with any of the district court's "basic" or "historical" facts. See R. Aldisert, The Judicial Process 694 (1976). Instead, they challenge the district court's conclusion that double-celling at SCIP is unconstitutional.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual" punishment. The Supreme Court has described the amendment as embodying " 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency """' against which we must evaluate penal measures." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102, 97 S.Ct. 285, 290, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir.1968)). *426 There is "[n]o static 'test' """ by which courts determine whether conditions of confinement are cruel and unusual." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346, 101 S.Ct. 2392, 2399, 69 L.Ed.2d 59 (1981). Rather, what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is measured by " 'the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.' " Id. (quoting Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S.Ct. 590, 598, 2 L.Ed.2d 630 (1958) (plurality opinion)). Because we look to societal standards as our benchmark, expert opinions and professional standards, while instructive, are not determinative. We must place more weight on " 'the public attitude toward a given sanction.' " Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 348-49 n. 13, 101 S.Ct. at 2400 n. 13 (quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 173, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2925, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976) (joint opinion)); see Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1027 n. 9 (3d Cir.1988); Inmates of Occoquan v. Barry, 844 F.2d 828, 836-39 (D.C.Cir.1988).

Although our understanding of the Eighth Amendment changes as our society progresses, "the inquiry that courts must conduct in eighth amendment cases is not consequently less exacting." Peterkin, 855 F.2d at 1024. The court's judgment must " 'be informed by objective factors to the maximum possible extent.' " Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346, 101 S.Ct. at 2399 (quoting Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 274-75, 100 S.Ct. 1133, 1139-40, 63 L.Ed.2d 382 (1980)). The Eighth Amendment does not give the court authority to impose its own "notions of enlightened policy." Hassine v. Jeffes, 846 F.2d 169, 175 (3d Cir.1988). Thus, deficiencies and inadequacies in prison conditions do not necessarily violate the Eighth Amendment. The amendment is violated only where an inmate is deprived of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347, 101 S.Ct. at 2399; see Inmates of Occoquan, 844 F.2d at 835-41; Cody v. Hillard, 830 F.2d 912 (8th Cir.1987) (en banc), cert. denied,485 U.S. 906, 108 S.Ct. 1078, 99 L.Ed.2d 237 (1988).

The denial of medical care, prolonged isolation in dehumanizing conditions, exposure to pervasive risk of physical assault, severe overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions have all been found to be cruel and unusual under contemporary standards of decency. See, e.g., Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976) (medical care); Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 98 S.Ct. 2565, 57 L.Ed.2d 522 (1978) (prolonged isolation in unsanitary, overcrowded cell); Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143 (3d Cir.1985) (security); Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559 (10th Cir.1980) (overcrowding, sanitation), cert. denied,450 U.S. 1041, 101 S.Ct. 1759, 68 L.Ed.2d 239 (1981). Although prisoners are, undeniably, sent to prison as punishment, the prison environment itself may not be so brutal or unhealthy as to be in itself a punishment. Battle v. Anderson, 564 F.2d 388, 395 (10th Cir.1977).

In challenging the district court's holding, defendants contend that double-celling is not per se unconstitutional. They rely on the Supreme Court's holding in Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. at 348-49, 101 S.Ct. at 2400-01, that double-celling inmates, under the circumstances in the prison at issue there, did not violate the Eighth Amendment. See also Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979) (double-celling pre-trial detainees for short periods does not constitute punishment under due process clause); French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1252 (7th Cir.1985) (practice of double-celling not per se unconstitutional); but see Battle, 564 F.2d at 395 (sixty square feet per inmate is constitutional minimum); Ramos, 639 F.2d at 568 (reaffirming Battle ).

However, in determining whether conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment we must look at the totality of the conditions within the institution. The Supreme Court made this precept clear in Rhodes where it stated that conditions of confinement, "alone, or in combination, may deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." 452 U.S. at 347, 101 S.Ct. at 2399 (emphasis added).
When faced with claims similar to those raised by these plaintiffs with respect to *427 other institutions, this court has held that the totality of the circumstances test must be applied to determine whether the conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In Union County Jail Inmates v. Di Buono, 713 F.2d 984 (3d Cir.1983), cert. denied,465 U.S. 1102, 104 S.Ct. 1600, 80 L.Ed.2d 130 (1984), we reversed the district court order holding that double-celling was unconstitutional because the district court had failed to consider the totality of the circumstances relevant to finding whether conditions of confinement fell below minimal standards of decency. The relevant considerations we identified included the length of confinement, the amount of time prisoners must spend in their cells each day, the opportunities for activities outside the cells, and the repair and functioning of basic physical facilities such as plumbing, ventilation and showers. Id. at 1000-01 & n. 30.

In Peterkin v. Jeffes, in affirming the district court's rejection of the claims of death row inmates in two Pennsylvania prisons that the conditions of their confinement were unconstitutional, we reiterated that the court must inquire into the totality of the circumstances. We elaborated on the factors to be considered, including food, medical care, sanitation, control of vermin, lighting, heating, ventilation, noise level, bedding, furniture, education and rehabilitation programs, safety and security and staffing. Peterkin, 855 F.2d at 1025-26 & n. 7 (incorporating factors enunciated in Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 364, 101 S.Ct. at 2408 (Brennan, J., concurring)).

In this case, the constitutionality of double-celling must be analyzed in the context of the district court's determination, well supported by the record, that almost every element of the physical plant and provision of services at SCIP falls below constitutional norms. Courts finding double-celling to be permissible have emphasized that the general prison conditions were otherwise adequate. Thus, for example, in Rhodes v. Chapman, the Supreme Court stressed that the district court had found the institution to be " 'unquestionably a top-flight, first-class facility,' " 452 U.S. at 341, 101 S.Ct. at 2396 (quoting [ Chapman v. Jaworski ] 434 F.Supp. 1007, 1009 (1977)), and that its findings concerning environmental conditions, food, provision of medical care and other relevant factors were "generally favorable." Id. at 342-43, 101 S.Ct. at 2397. Double-celling had not led "to deprivations of essential food, medical care, or sanitation. Nor did it increase violence among inmates or create other conditions intolerable for prison confinement." Id. at 348, 101 S.Ct. at 2400.

Similarly, in Di Buono, where we held double-celling in New Jersey's Union County Jail to be permissible, we noted there had been no finding that basic prison facilities such as plumbing and ventilation were inadequate. 713 F.2d at 1001 n. 30. The same was true in Peterkin where, unlike SCIP, the prisons were "fairly modern." 855 F.2d at 1026. The area afforded each inmate was significantly greater than that provided here. Id. at 1026 & n. 8. There was adequate lighting and bedding. Id. at 1026-27. Ventilation and sanitation, while less than desirable, had not led to the development or spread of disease and did not fall below constitutional norms. Id. Accordingly, the totality of the circumstances did not fall below constitutional minimums.

On the other hand, double-celling has been found to be unconstitutional where it has been imposed in a decaying physical plant with inadequate staff and security. For example, in French v. Owens, where double-celling was one "feature of severely overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions,"777 F.2d at 1253, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found double-celling to be unconstitutional and affirmed a ban on its use. Id. See also Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559 (10th Cir.1980).