Victory v. Berks Cnty.

Decision Date15 January 2019
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 18-5170
Citation355 F.Supp.3d 239
Parties Theresa VICTORY v. BERKS COUNTY, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Angus R. Love, Matthew A. Feldman, Su Ming Yeh, James P. Davy, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Philadelphia, PA, for Theresa Victory.

Matthew J. Connell, The MacMain Law Group LLC, West Chester, PA, for Berks County, Kevin S. Barnhardt, Christian Y. Leinbach, Mark C. Scott, Esq., Warden Janine L. Quigley, Deputy Warden Stephanie Smith, Captain Castro, Lieutenant Weber, Lieutenant Spotts, Correctional Officer Drozack, C.O. Reichart, C.O. Zerr, C.O. Brown, C.O. Bauer, Joanna Brown.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

KEARNEY, District JudgeBerks County thoughtfully classifies newly admitted inmates in its jail system after careful study from a variety of experts using complicated analysis tools in reviewing each newly admitted inmate consistent with the sentencing state court judge's recommendations. It does not distinguish between male and female inmates in carefully setting custody classifications from highest to lowest risk. It focuses on risk posed by the newly admitted inmate and the inmate's need for rehabilitation. Just as it classifies certain newly admitted inmates as high or medium risk, Berks County properly finds a limited number of male and female inmates can be classified in the "Trusty" class—the lowest level of security risk. Trusty inmates typically spend approximately fifty-seven days in custody and may leave the jail system if their sentencing judge finds work release for the Trusty inmate fulfills the Commonwealth's sentencing goals. Male and female Trusty inmates are examined and classified in the same manner.

But, after carefully setting this custody classification for all newly admitted inmates, Berks County then houses the Trusty inmates in substantially different facilities depending on their gender: all male Trusty inmates live in a separate "Community Reentry Center" with, among other benefits, dorm-style unlocked cells attached to community day rooms, thirteen hours of daily recreation time, unlimited access to toilets/showers, meals served in a community day room, less risk of lockdown, and several programs designed to enhance their re-entry into the community as Berks County proudly touts on its website. Sounds like Berks County pursues an innovative and thoughtful approach to re-entry. Unless you are a female Trusty inmate.

By comparison, Theresa Victory, a female Trusty inmate since January 2018, is housed in the F Block of the neighboring but much larger Berks County Jail with locked cells, no more than six hours of daily recreation, limited access to toilets/showers, meals served in her cell, more lockdowns, and fewer programs fostering re-entry into the community. Her sentencing judge found she warranted work release and she has been a diligent worker at a local diner. But other than being transported to the diner and back, Berks County does not allow her out of locked cell for more than six hours a day—assuming no lockdowns on a certain day attendant to a much larger jail. Substantially different treatment.

Asked to explain its reasons for this substantially different treatment when sued by Ms. Victory for depriving her of equal protection under the Law, Berks County speculates it cannot allocate two its thirty-one female correctional officers to supervise Ms. Victory at the Community Reentry Center and the unknown speculative costs of modifications to either the jail or Community Reentry Center outweigh her rights. Relying on these staffing and costs concerns, it speculates as to a safety alarm. We find Berks County does not adequately justify its reasons for this substantially different treatment of lowest risk Trusty inmates working in our community on work release based on their chromosomes. After too long, Berks County must act now to mitigate further harm to Ms. Victory and ensure her equal protection under the Law, without retaliating against her (or other male and female inmates) because Berks County now needs to treat men and women Trusty inmates in the same manner.

Following briefing, oral argument and evaluating the credibility of several witnesses and dozens of admitted exhibits at our January 10, 2019 evidentiary hearing, we find facts and enter conclusions of law supporting our accompanying Order granting Ms. Victory's Motion for a preliminary injunction:

I. Findings of Fact

1. For at least two years before January 2018, forty-eight-year-old Theresa Victory worked as a waitress and hostess at the Route 61 Diner in Berks County while residing with a significant other in a local apartment. She admittedly struggled with attention deficits compounded with alcohol dependency resulting in, among other things, two arrests for driving under the influence.

2. On an unknown date, the Commonwealth arrested Ms. Victory for her third driving under the influence offense.

3. On January 24, 2018, following a negotiated plea agreement, a Berks County judge sentenced Theresa Victory to a sentence of not less than one year nor more than five years to be served in the Berks County Jail arising from her third driving under the influence conviction within ten years, beginning January 28, 2018.1

4. The judge required Ms. Victory participate in drug and alcohol and mental health programs and found Ms. Victory immediately eligible for Work Release.2 The judge did not allow furloughs. Ms. Victory never asked the judge to modify the sentence to allow furloughs.

5. Upon entry into a sentence, Ms. Victory learned the Berks County Jail System defines five levels of custody depending on the security risk posed by the newly admitted inmate: Administrative segregation, Maximum, Medium, Minimum, and Trusty.

6. Berks County Warden Janine L. Quigley, as appointed by and responsible to the Berks County Prison Board and the Berks County Commissioners, is responsible for this custody classification system. She delegates this classification system to the Institutional Classification Committee consisting of five persons experienced in evaluating the treatment and clinical needs of the newly admitted inmate, including a logistical person familiar with the number of available beds and programs at the neighboring Community Reentry Center ("CRC").

7. Within three days of beginning her sentence, the Institutional Classification Committee approved Ms. Victory for "Trusty" classification—the lowest level of security for inmates.3 The Committee found Ms. Victory had a low risk of recidivism.

8. The average incarceration of an inmate with Trusty classification—regardless of woman or man—is approximately fifty-six or fifty-seven days.

9. An inmate with a Trusty classification is eligible for Work Release, consistent with the state judge's sentence.4

10. Berks County provides four general categories of inmate housing: classification/quarantine; general population; restricted housing (administrative or disciplinary segregation); or reentry (including Trusty or work release).5

11. Berks County describes the reentry housing as "assigned to those who meet a number of criteria [where] you may be housed outside the secure perimeter of the jail [and] afforded, to a degree, more freedom and less direct supervision by staff."6 Berks County represents to Ms. Victory and others in reentry housing: "[y]ou will be accountable for your behavior and responsible to prepare yourself to return to the community."7

12. Berks County sets different dress codes for each housing, with a greater number of clothes issued to Trusty classification inmates who are not housed in general population but instead housed in the neighboring CRC.8

13. Upon her arrival and after a short quarantine period, Berks County housed Ms. Victory in an overflow unit of the Jail housing over forty female prisoners in dormitory housing with several women in bunk beds and no cell walls or bars.

14. On February 14, 2018, in stated reliance upon Warden Quigley's and Deputy Warden Stephanie E. Smith's recommendation, a Berks County judge permitted Ms. Victory to leave the Jail to return to work again until discharged from her sentence or re-classified to a non-Trusty status.9

15. Ms. Victory returned to work as a waitress/hostess including at the Route 61 Diner working an eight-hour shift, five days a week, often returning later in the evening. She continues to work there.

16. In April 2018, Ms. Victory complained about her safety in the Jail when she returned from Work Release at approximately 10:25 P.M. when unsupervised male inmates were waiting in the lobby with her to enter the Jail. Berks County officers responded she faced no safety risk as cameras are monitoring the Jail lobby.10

17. After Berks County denied her requests for furlough not permitted by the judge's sentence, Ms. Victory inquired in July 2018 as to programs available to other inmates classified as "Trusty" and housed in a nearby facility known as the "CRC." Ms. Victory sought to participate in job reentry and training programs which she understood were available to those with Trusty classification at CRC but not available to her in the Jail.11

18. After she filed grievances, Berks County moved Ms. Victory and other female prisoners with Trusty classification and/or work release status from the dormitory-style overflow housing unit to F Block in General Population in the Jail.

19. By mid-summer 2018, Berks County housed Ms. Victory in the general population F Block unit of its Jail, reserved exclusively for women inmates regardless of their classification.

20. Apparently unknown to her upon entering the Jail, Berks County also maintains housing for inmates with the Trusty classification in a neighboring CRC, just down the hill from the Jail where, as Berks County promises, the inmates may be "afforded, to a degree, more freedom and less direct supervision by staff."12

21. Berks County agrees every male inmate with a Trusty classification is housed...

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1 cases
  • Victory v. Berks Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • April 7, 2020
    ...class certification, civil contempt, summary judgment, and post-trial permanent injunctive relief. See e.g., Victory v. Berks Cnty. , 355 F. Supp. 3d 239 (E.D. Pa. 2019), appeal dismissed, 789 F. App'x 328 (3d Cir. 2019) ; Victory v. Berks Cnty. , No. 18-5170, 2019 WL 2368579 (E.D. Pa. June......

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