The opinion of the court was delivered by: STERN
In the final stage of this class action brought pursuant to Title 42 United States Code, § 1983, by the inmates of the Passaic County Jail,
the Court must decide whether the institution's ban on contact visitation is constitutional. The Court has heard three days of testimony, received the Report and Recommendation of Special Master Edward J. Dauber, Esquire,
and reviewed the objections and comments of the parties with respect to the report. Under the circumstances existing in the Passaic County Jail, the Court finds the denial of contact visitation to be constitutional.
The three-story, twenty-four year old Passaic County Jail houses an average population of 300 men and women, the majority of whom are pretrial detainees. Although some inmates are incarcerated in the jail for up to one year, most pretrial detainees stay less than six weeks.
All visits, except those involving attorneys, clergymen, law enforcement officials, or social workers, and those occurring under extraordinary circumstances, are non-contact. Inmates and visitors stand on separate sides of a glass window in booths and communicate via telephone. Under the current visitation policy
all inmates whose last name begins with the letters A-L are entitled to visits on Saturdays between 9:00 and 10:30 A.M. and 12:30 and 4:00 P.M. The remaining inmates receive visitors on Sundays between 9:00 and 10:30 A.M. and 7:00 and 9:00 P.M. The standard length of each visit is thirty minutes, with inmates entitled to two adult visitors at one time. The length of the visits is expanded or curtailed depending on the number of waiting visitors. In addition, all inmates are entitled to "Visits by Appointment" during the weekdays. Requests for these visits must be made two days in advance and are granted unless there is a justifiable institutional reason for denial.
Children's visits are conducted Monday and Tuesday nights from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. The jail population is divided alphabetically so that each inmate who wishes to see his or her children receives at least one, thirty-minute visit per week. An inmate may visit with all his or her children simultaneously, if they are accompanied by a responsible adult.
There are two male and one female visiting areas on the second and third floors of the building, well within the security perimeter of the jail. During regularly scheduled visitation periods, all general jail activities cease and inmates not receiving visitors must remain locked in their cells.
The correctional staff is fully occupied with the visitation process, the supervision of inmates, and other necessary duties such as the receipt and release of inmates.
Visitors wait on chairs located in or near the cellblock area and some inmates must pass within a few feet of the waiting visitors to get to the booths. Visitors, who may bring their belongings with them, do not pass through any metal detector or similar device, and are not searched prior to or after a visit. At the conclusion of the visits, the areas to which the visitors had access are searched; the inmates are not.
The thrust of the visitation plan is to provide the maximum amount of visitation possible under existing conditions, without wholesale searches of inmates and visitors. The parties and the Master agree that the present plan is adequate with respect to the number of visitors allowed and amount of time permitted.
Plaintiffs contend, however, that at least some portion of the jail population is entitled to contact visitation.
They argue that the defendants' denial of contact visitation is arbitrary and based upon exaggerated and speculative concerns about institutional security.
Defendants vigorously oppose any contact visitation, arguing that no such program could be implemented without reducing the level of "security, custody and control" at the jail. Specifically, they contend that contact visitation would lead to an increase in drugs and weapons entering the jail and would enhance the opportunity for and probability of escape. They further argue that pressure would be exerted upon inmates receiving such visits to bring in contraband for those not entitled to contact. Defendants state that contact visitation would interfere with other inmate and staff activities at the jail and would require an increase in staff and construction expenditures, which might jeopardize a proposed fourth floor addition to the jail. Defendants further urge that contact visitation would diminish inmate privacy because closer staff monitoring would be required during the visits and strip searches would be necessary.
The Master, after visits to the jail and hearings involving jail personnel, concluded that the jail officials' subjective determination to deny contact visitation was "arbitrary and . . . an exaggerated response to the concerns raised by the prospect of contact visitation." Master's Report at 55.
In his view, a limited contact visitation program could reasonably be instituted at the jail "without increasing the security, financial, staffing and psychological costs feared by the Jail authorities and without interfering with the routine functioning and other activities of the Jail." Master's Report at 57.
The Master's Report and Recommendation was based solely upon this Court's Opinion of July 18, 1979. In the interim the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed the issue of contact visitation for the first time since the Supreme Court's decision in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979). Inmates of the Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754 (3rd Cir. 1979). After carefully considering the Third Circuit opinion, this Court must reject the Master's recommendation. We find that, under the prevailing conditions at the Passaic County Jail, the total ban on contact visits is constitutional.
In Inmates of the Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, supra, the district court found that many of the conditions of confinement in the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Jail violated the constitutional rights of the pretrial detainees incarcerated there, but held that the denial of contact visits did not. The court found visitation procedures substantially similar to those employed at the Passaic County Jail to be a legitimate restriction in light of the security interests of the Allegheny County Jail, although, as here, a court-appointed adviser had recommended implementation of a limited program of contact visits.
(E)ven though the chance of additional contraband reaching the jail as a result of contact visits may be remote, jail officials may reasonably act ...