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New York Does DOCs Double Celling Suit Dismissed

The New York State prison system's practice of double-celling at Woodbourne Correctional Facility does not violate the Eighth Amendment. There was no evidence of denial of adequate food, medical care, or clothing.

Protection from Inmate Assault (627, 629): There was little evidence of risk of violence among double-celled inmates, and when disputes arose they were handled quickly.

Plaintiffs' testimony that they lived in fear of assault "is not an objectively serious enough injury to support a claim for damages." (627) There was evidence that unusual incidents, use of force, and disciplinary reports increased in the first year of double-celling, but there was no showing of a cause and effect relationship, and the numbers are not high compared to similar facilities. The numbers also declined the following year.

Privacy (627): The embarrassment and discomfort of having to use the toilet in front of a cellmate "does not approach the standard of inhumane conditions that violate the Eighth Amendment."

Personal Space, Cell Confinement (627-28): Although the cells are small (53.3 and 58.6 square feet), inmates are only required to be in them for about two waking hours a day, and have a variety of assigned and elective programs to go to.

Medical Care--Isolation (628): "The practice of putting inmates who have serious communicable diseases together is actionable under the Eighth Amendment," but double-celling prisoners with positive TB tests (as opposed to active infectious TB) is not an objectively serious injury; there have been no cases of TB at the prison since double-celling started.

AIDS (628-29): Double celling prisoners with HIV presents no unconstitutional risk of spreading the disease. Defendants presented credible evidence that a per se exclusion "might prove more harmful to the health of inmates by creating a false sense of security among those inmates who attempt to engage in high-risk behavior." "Careful consideration" is given before double celling prisoners who are severely debilitated from AIDS.

Heating and Ventilation (628): There was no evidence that ventilation was so inadequate as to cause injury. "The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a certain type of ventilation system or a certain rate of air exchange." There was no evidence of disease transmission.

Length of Stay (628): The duration of double celling--two to four months for each of the plaintiffs--was not cruel and unusual punishment in light of out-of-cell time.

Negligence, Deliberate Indifference and Intent (628-29): Evidence that defendants carefully planned the implementation of double-celling showed that defendants were not deliberately indifferent. They developed screening criteria that considered whether inmates were victim-prone or violent or had relevant medical conditions.

Procedural Due Process (630): Double celling is not atypical and significant under Sandin and has no effect on the "ordinary incidents of prison life" since inmates had the same access to programs and activities and there was no evidence that the facility as a whole was overtaxed. The prior practice of avoiding double celling did not create a liberty interest.

PLRA--Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies (624-25): The PLRA's administrative exhaustion requirement does not apply retroactively. The statutory language explicitly refers to the bringing of new cases.

PLRA--Mental or Emotional Injury (625-26): The PLRA's mental or emotional injury provision does not apply retroactively because it would attach new consequences to events previously completed and would impair rights plaintiffs possessed when they acted. See: Bolton v. Goord, 992 F.Supp. 604 (S.D.N.Y. 1998).

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Related legal case

Bolton v. Goord