Nadeau v. Helgemoe

Decision Date06 December 1976
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 76-86.
PartiesLarry NADEAU and Richard Hunt et al. v. Raymond A. HELGEMOE, Individually and in his capacity as Warden of New Hampshire State Prison, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire

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Jeffry A. Schapira, Staff Atty., New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Nashua, N. H., for plaintiffs.

James L. Kruse, Asst. Atty. Gen., Concord, N. H., for the State of New Hampshire, for defendants.

OPINION

BOWNES, District Judge.

This civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 concerns the living conditions and regulations relative to inmates in protective custody at the New Hampshire State Prison. A class was certified June 29, 1976, under F.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and (b)(2). The class consists of all prisoners at the New Hampshire State Prison who are or will be confined in protective custody. Jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), (4).

Plaintiffs allege that the conditions of confinement to which they, as protective custody inmates, are subjected are cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. They also claim that they are treated unequally without cause in violation of their rights to equal protection and benefit of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Defendants assert that the conditions of confinement and denial of privileges are a necessary consequence of plaintiffs' need for special security.

This issue is not new to this court. I addressed the identical question in Ceria v. Helgemoe, Civ. No. 75-300 (D.N.H. 2/9/76). Ceria was a pro se complaint and neither party fully addressed the issues that this court found dispositive; therefore, in light of the complete development of the facts and briefing of the law in the instant suit, I will reconsider my Ceria holding.

THE FACTS

The facts as found by this court are based on the testimony adduced at the trial, the exhibits, and the court's tour of the New Hampshire State Prison and the Annex in particular. Only when a specific piece of written evidence is relied upon will the source be cited.

There are presently thirty-five inmates housed in the protective custody unit at the New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP). Defts.' Ex. 19. These men are there at their own request. They fear serious bodily assault by members of the general population for a variety of reasons: some have aided the State in prosecutions; some have already been victims of sexual or murderous assault; some are indebted to members of the general population; and some simply can't get along with certain other prisoners for one reason or another. They are housed in the protective custody unit because they believe, and the prison administration concurs, that there would be a real threat to their physical or mental well-being were they to remain in the main cell block.

Protective custody inmates are housed in the "Annex," an addition to the NHSP main cell block building that was constructed in 1941. The Annex, a brick building with reinforced concrete floors, is four stories high. It contains 66 back-to-back cells with 22 cells on a floor, 11 cells on a side. The cells face a corridor approximately 70' long and 8' wide lined with windows. They are made of steel plate on three sides with a door and steel bars on the fourth. Each cell is 6' × 8', and is equipped with a toilet-lavatory unit and one steel bunk welded to the wall.

In addition to the protective custody population, farm trusties and maximum security disciplinary inmates are housed in the Annex. The protective custody prisoners comprise four divisions occupying the top two floors of the building; the second floor houses the trusty and disciplinary units. The ground floor of the Annex contains an inmate lavatory, a gang shower, and the prison library. There are exits into the main prison yard, the front prison yard, and the main cell block. There is a single shower stall on each floor.

On the uppermost floor, where two of the four protective custody divisions are housed, there is a security screen made of steel wire mesh that divides the corridor by approximately one-third, leaving about 4½' between the cells and the screen. The screen considerably darkens the area, cuts air circulation and decreases the space available to the inmates during the time they are allowed out in the corridor. The presence of the security screen is one of the main inmate grievances in this case.

There are usually two guards on duty in the Annex. One stays on the first floor at all times to guard the entrances and to answer the telephone and doorbell. The other shepherds the inmates to showers, medical calls, visits, and generally performs the duties not covered by the first guard.

A day in the life of a protective custody inmate is monotonous, to say the least. Breakfast is served at about 7:30 A.M. It is distributed to the prisoners in their cells by inmate workers who dish out the food from a heated food cart to individual trays. The food cart is brought in by an inmate worker from the kitchen and is left on the first floor. The protective custody workers carry the trays up and down the stairs. After breakfast, between 8:00 and 10:00 A.M., approximately twenty men per day shower. This means that each man in the Annex usually showers five times in fourteen days. Showers on weekends are permitted only on special occasions. In the meantime, the inmate workers pick up laundry and cleaning supplies such as garbage bags, toilet paper, brushes and soap, when available, and deliver them to the men. They clean the tiers: sweep, mop, and take down the garbage. These activities cease at about 10:30 A.M.

The luncheon meal is delivered at approximately 10:30 A.M. The inmate workers deliver this meal in the same manner as breakfast. Everything is completed by approximately 11:15 A.M. when the workers return to their cells. A prisonwide head count takes place between 11:30 A.M. and 12:00 noon when everyone is locked in. At that time, second class mail and prescribed medicines are distributed.

Approximately twice a week, protective custody inmates are let into the prison yard for outdoor recreation between 12:00 and 12:45 P.M., and once a week they are taken to the library for about fifty minutes. On every weekday afternoon between 12:45 and 2:45 P.M., they are allowed out into the corridor adjacent to their cells, "the tier," for Divisional Yard Time. These periods are the only times all protective custody inmates are permitted out of their cells.

Once they are locked back into their cells at 2:45 P.M., the inmate workers sweep down the corridors. Personal mail is delivered at that time. The dinner meal is served at 3:30 P.M. and finished by 4:15 P.M. Then, everyone is locked in at 4:30 P.M. for the 5:00 o'clock head count. Medicines are again distributed. Between 5:30 and 7:30 P.M., a time when the general population engages in evening activities, protective custody inmates are locked into their cells. If there is a specific reason, such as a visitor, an inmate is allowed out of his cell at this time. Final lockup for the protective custody unit is 7:30 P.M.

Plaintiffs allege that specific conditions of their confinement are particularly onerous. The most frequently voiced complaint concerns the lack of air circulation and the darkness caused by the steel mesh security screen. The inmates who testified all complained that the screens cut the light in the fifth and sixth divisions so that it is dark and oppressive during the daytime; only the morning sun and electric lights relieve the gloom.

The most oppressive effect of the screen is, however, the blockage of airflow. Although the windows can be opened, little fresh air reaches the inmates, and to quote them, "it stinks." This condition is aggravated by the fact that the steel bunks are welded over many of the ventilation holes in the back wall of the cells and that cleaning materials are in short supply at the prison. Toilet brushes are a cherished item among the prisoners and are passed down from one to another. Cleaning supplies are a particularly rare commodity in the protective custody unit, and the inmates uniformly claimed difficulty sleeping because of the bad air. Even the guards find it "stuffy."

The security screen also significantly diminishes the space on the tier, leaving the inmates less room for whatever diversions they pursue during their Divisional Yard Time. The screen causes some congestion and certainly minimizes opportunities for physical exercise on the tier.

The screen also makes it difficult to watch street activities. In the words of plaintiffs' expert, psychiatrist Moskowitz, it is "overwhelming stimulus," acting as a visual blockade. For men suffering from "visual perceptual distortion," it can create feelings of acute claustrophobia,1 and for all the men, it is another barrier to contact with the outside world.

Meals are another cause of complaint, even though there has been a distinct improvement over the years. The food comes from the kitchen on a hot tray, but by the time it reaches the inmates, it is often cold. The trays upon which the food is served are divided into three parts, but the food often spills over the compartments so that the inmates get catsup in their jello. The major inmate complaint concerning the food is that there are rarely any second helpings.

The expert testimony concerning food focused on a different aspect. Meals are eaten in the cells, and the very language used by both the guards and the inmates illustrates that mealtime is solely for eating: a meal is a "feed"; mealtime is "feed time." And to further emphasize to the inmates the starkly biological function of their eating periods and their subordination to the convenience of prison management, meals are served at the hours of 7:00 A.M., 10:30 A.M., and 3:30 P.M. The...

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