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Tennessee Prison System Ruled Unfit for Human Habitation

The U.S. District Court of Tennessee determined the living conditions of Tennessee’s prisons were unfit for human habitation.

Officials have known since 1937 what was necessary to correct prison housing problems, but failed to do so. The overcrowding exacerbated all other conditions present. The absence of a comprehensive system-wide health care policy created unaccountable levels of quality and care delivered. One of the prisons was built in 1898 and originally designed to hold 1,600 prisoners; the prison population now exceeds 1,900. Some prisoners have as little as 19 square feet in their cells.

Scotty Grubb and four other prisoners filed suit under 42 USC § 1983 on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated.

Originally, Grubbs and other plaintiffs filed their suits pro se. The U.S. District Court, based on precedent set in Hanna v. Toner, 630 F.2d 442 (6th Cir 1980), determined that due to the seriousness and complexity of the case, that it should be consolidated and appointed counsel for plaintiffs. Subsequently, an amended class action was filed. The amended complaint alleged overcrowding, poor sanitation, poor medical care, rampant violence, idleness and a “laughable” current classification system. One of the main contentions focused on a claim of cruel and unusual punishment; prison conditions were so bad as to guarantee inevitable serious physical and psychological deterioration. CF Spain v. Procunier, 600 F.2d 189, 199 (9th Cir 1979); also see Miller v. Carson, 563 F.2d 741, 751 n.12 (5th Cir 1977).

The U.S. District Court appointed a special master to oversee the court-ordered reforms due to present conditions violating the 8th and 14th Amendments. The court ordered the special master to compensate plaintiff via defendant in a monthly rate to be established later. See: Grubbs v. Bradley, 552 F. Supp 1052 (WDTN 1982).

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Related legal case

Grubbs v. Bradley