Landman v. Royster

Decision Date30 October 1971
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 170-69-R.
Citation333 F. Supp. 621
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesRobert J. LANDMAN et al. v. M. L. ROYSTER, etc., et al.

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Philip J. Hirschkop, Alexandria, Va., for plaintiffs.

Andrew P. Miller, Atty. Gen. of Va., G. R. Humrickhouse, Richmond, Va., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM

MERHIGE, District Judge.

This class action by prisoners of the Virginia Penal System is brought against defendants charged with the powers and duties encompassing the maintenance and supervision of the correctional system of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The jurisdiction of the Court is acquired pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3), (4), 2201, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985.

Defendants named in the complaint, or their successors, are the Director of the Department of Welfare and Institutions, the Director of the Division of Corrections, the Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, and the Superintendent of the State Farm.

Plaintiffs, who are representative of the class they purport to represent, mount their attack upon the administration of discipline within the prisons: the reasons for invoking sanctions, the adjudication process, and the various penalties imposed. The evidence adduced has disclosed as to each of these points a disregard of constitutional guaranties of so grave a nature as to violate the most common notions of due process and humane treatment by certain of the defendants, their agents, servants and employees.

One of the principal issues before the Court has to do with lack of appropriate due process prior to punishing members of the class for supposed infraction of rules. As the Court has already indicated, it finds that in many instances punishment has been of such a nature as to be abusive and violative of the most generic elements of due process and humane treatment.

Of necessity the Court must herein set out an extensive review of the testimony to illustrate the existence of what the Court finds to have been a consistent course of conduct by prison administrators and those beneath them, resulting in the denial of the fundamental elements of due process.

A prefatory remark is due on a point of terminology. The good conduct allowance —"good time"—is a credit of ten days against one's sentence for each twenty days served without a rule infraction. Va.Code § 53-213 (Supp.1970). The Director of the Department of Welfare and Institutions is empowered to impose forfeitures and restorations of accumulated good time. Va.Code § 53-214 (1967 Repl. Vol.).

"C-cell" inmates at the Virgina State Penitentiary and occupants of other "segregation" units there and at the Virginia State Farm enjoy substantially fewer privileges than men among the general population. Prisoners in C-cell cannot be employed in any work program; thus they are denied the opportunity to earn money. A reduced diet— two meals a day—is served. Religious services and educational classwork are unavailable, although men may be visited by a chaplain. There is no access to a library, although the men can receive magazines (under a recent change in rules) and books. The likelihood of release on parole is almost nonexistent for men placed in C-cell, and in practice there is no chance that lost good time will be restored. In addition, showers are permitted only at weekly intervals instead of daily, and men in some segregation units are unable to exercise outdoors.

In the Virginia penal system there are five major units and about thirty smaller correctional field units. About 1100 inmates, all felons, are housed in the maximum security Virginia State Penitentiary, located in the City of Richmond. The Virginia State Farm, a medium security facility, holds about 1200. The Virginia Industrial Farm for Women contains about 300 inmates. Southhampton and Bland Correctional Farms each hold about 450. The combined Correctional Field Units, minimum security institutions, hold some 2200 inmates. There are about 30 of these "road camps;" the permanent ones house about 80 to 90 men, and the semi-permanent units contain 50 to 60.

The volume of testimony concerning rules generally covering sanctions and their application in specific instances is immense. Even allowing for the changes in policy which no doubt took place over the time period—over two years—embraced by the deposition and ore tenus evidence presented, the Court has observed a disturbing number of inconsistencies in the officials' accounts of applicable rules. These factfindings must be read, and compared with the evidence, with the awareness that when it is said that a given disciplinary procedure is followed, the Court is speaking of theory and not necessarily practice, and, at that, theory as expressed by the most apparently authoritative individual.

There was at the time the Court heard this case no general, central set of regulations for the penal system stating which offenses justify the taking of a prisoner's good time or his commitment to a solitary cell.

As of July, 1970, according to depositions then taken, the Superintendent of the Virginia State Penitentiary was empowered to take a man's good time in any amount on the recommendation of a disciplinary committee. No guidelines exist for the penitentiary fixing the range of penalties available for particular infractions. Men in C-cell maximum security section seem generally to be ineligible for restoration of good time. For men among the general population there is a rule of thumb that good time cannot be restored unless a man has served at least twelve months without an offense.

The disciplinary committee does not call as a witness the guard who reported an offense. Needless to say, cross-examination is therefore impossible. No written charges are served on the prisoner before or after the proceedings, and lawyers may not participate. The committee does not make factfindings. No formal appeal procedure exists.

The Disciplinary Committee jurisdiction, in late 1970, was extended to cover offenses committed in C-cell. It now, therefore, generally hears as well any charge that may result in solitary confinement. The question whether a man should be placed in C-cell in the first instance, however, is not always determined by a disciplinary committee hearing. This decision may be made by the Superintendent alone.

Once he is in C-cell, a man's release to less rigorous quarters may be gained by means of a recommendation to W. K. Cunningham, Jr., Director of the Division of Corrections, by a committee composed of the Penitentiary Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and two high guard officers.

As of July, 1970, a C-cell inmate could be moved by a guard into meditation without a hearing. Only the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent could order the man's release. A guard could request leave to keep a man in solitary for more than 30 days, in which event a written report by the guard was to be passed on to Cunningham who, on the basis of the report, would approve or disapprove the request. The meditation cells measure about 6½ feet by 10 feet and contain a mattress (at night), a sink and commode. The usual C-cell diet is served, although bread and water is reserved as a selective form of additional punishment. A man may also be denied use of his mattress for up to about three days as a form of penalty, in which case he sleeps on the bare cement with a blanket.

If a penitentiary prisoner is continually obstreperous in solitary, there is no further method used to control him other than by chaining or tear gassing. On occasion a man's clothing may be taken if he appears to be a suicide risk or a menace to others.

Transfers from the general population to C-cell, since at least 1969, were in theory made only on the recommendation of the disciplinary committee to the Superintendent. Peyton, the Superintendent in February of that year, said, however, that such a transfer, made solely on the recommendation of the Assistant Superintendent, would not necessarily violate regulations. It was his practice, he said, to interview all prisoners in C-cell every six months to determine whether a return to general population was indicated. Criteria determining the decision to place a man in C-cell or remove him were extremely hazy. A man's attitude, his disruptiveness, tendency to challenge authority, or nonconforming behavior, as reflected in written or oral guards' reports, may condemn him to maximum security for many years.

In 1969 C-cell inmates' offenses for which good time might be lost were "tried" usually by the Assistant Superintendent on the record of a guard officer's report.

In the penitentiary the B-basement category of punitive segregation was instituted in September of 1968. Superintendent Peyton himself selected the inmates who were to be placed there. Conditions there were substantially as in C-Building, but somewhat more restrictive. For several months, for example, B-basement inmates were not permitted outdoors for exercise.

Isolation of prisoners in maximum security cells of this sort has often been effected without any formalities. No investigation was made into Leroy Mason's responsibility for a prison work stoppage, yet for that reason, apparently, he was placed in C-cell for nearly two years. As a matter of practice no hearings were held, according to Oliver, when he was at the Penitentiary, on the question of transfers into C-cell, and inmates were held there at the discretion of himself and the then superintendent, Peyton. Generally speaking these two administrators relied exclusively upon written reports submitted by the guards in retaining men such as Mason, Landman, Hood, and Arey in maximum security units. Elaboration as to the Court's findings as to each of these men will be set forth in later paragraphs.

The Assistant Superintendent at the Penitentiary may "padlock" a man without any...

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