The opinion of the court was delivered by: ACKERMAN
This is an action challenging the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution (MCCI or "the jail") in New Jersey. The plaintiffs in this action are a class of inmates at MCCI and defendants are various County and State officials including William Lanzaro, the Monmouth County Sheriff, and William H. Fauver, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
In this case, this court is once again asked to confront one of the "inevitable consequences of this [nation's] war on crime": prison overcrowding and the sometimes "egregious" conditions of confinement which may result. See Union County Jail Inmates v. Scanlon, 537 F. Supp. 993, 996 (D.N.J. 1982), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Union County Jail Inmates v. Di Buono, 713 F.2d 984, reh. denied, 718 F.2d 1247 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1102, 104 S. Ct. 1600, 80 L. Ed. 2d 130 (1984). As in the Union County Jail case, all parties agree that MCCI is overcrowded and the only issue is whether the conditions in the jail have fallen below minimum constitutional standards for the confinement of sentenced inmates and pre-trial detainees.
The Special Master and his Assistant, Robert Fagella, Esq., toured the MCCI facility on June 30, 1983 and again, unannounced, on July 15. A first set of hearings were held before the Master on July 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and August 1, 1983. All counsel were present and were afforded a full opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses. Pre and post-hearing briefs were submitted. Following these hearings and before any final report had been filed by the Special Master, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its decision in the Union County Jail case, 713 F.2d 984, in which it reversed this court's decision on the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement existing in the correctional facilities at issue therein. Following the Union County Jail decision, there arose considerable disagreement between the parties regarding the impact of the Third Circuit's opinion on the governing law.
On September 16, 1983, contending that the Union County Jail case necessitated further investigation into the totality of conditions at MCCI, plaintiffs moved this court for an order permitting additional hearings, additional discovery and an extension of time within which the Special Master would be required to submit his report to the court. In support of their motion, plaintiffs also argued that defendants had belatedly raised new issues concerning double-celling and double-bunking at MCCI which had not been addressed at the hearings. Noting that the proposed remedy of double-bunking had not been raised by the defendants until after the conclusion of the hearings, I ordered that hearings be reopened to permit the exploration of issues raised by this proposal. In particular I stated:
Such exploration may include the full range of discovery techniques under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as experts regarding issues such as the physical or psychological effects of double-bunking on the inmates, and the effect of double-bunking on the inmates, and the effect of double-bunking on the jail's physical plant, staff and conditions of confinement. . . .
Transcript of Opinion rendered on September 16, 1983 at 12-4 to 12-12. Further, I ordered that the defendants respond to all outstanding discovery requests and I extended the date on which the Master's report was due. Pursuant to my order, further discovery was conducted and additional hearings were held by the Master on November 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23 and December 5, 7, and 10, 1983. The Special Master's Report and Recommendations Concerning Overcrowding at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution was filed on February 10, 1984 and timely objections to the Master's findings were filed by plaintiffs and by State defendants thereafter.
On November 15, 1983, before the additional hearings commenced, plaintiffs moved this court for preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiffs sought an order of this court requiring defendants to provide all inmates at the MCCI with one hour of out-of-cell recreation daily and prohibiting the practice of requiring inmates to sleep on the floor. State defendants did not contest the relief requested. In fact, Commissioner Fauver had already ordered the county to provide much the same relief which plaintiffs sought in this court. On the uncontested factual record then before me, I concluded that plaintiffs had, to this extent, demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims and that they would be irreparably harmed pendente lite if their motion for injunctive relief was denied. Further, I concluded that the county defendants had failed to show that its interests or the interests of the public mandated a contrary result. Consequently, I ordered "that no pretrial detainee of the [MCCI] shall be required to sleep on the floor with or without a mattress and bedding for more than 48 hours and that no sentenced [inmate] at MCCI shall be required to sleep on the floor with or without a mattress and bedding for more than two weeks. In addition, I ordered that all persons confined at the [MCCI] shall receive a minimum of one hour of recreation away from their living space each day." I advised the County to consider the suggestions already made by Commissioner Fauver regarding how this could be accomplished.
On May 3, 1984, plaintiffs moved this court for an order of contempt against the defendants due to their alleged substantial non-compliance with the preliminary injunction which had been entered in this case. Evidentiary documentation and affidavits were submitted by the parties. Oral argument on the objections filed by the parties to the Special Master's Report were heard on the same day. At the close of oral argument, counsel for plaintiffs indicated that he would be willing to withdraw the motion for an order of contempt in light of the pendency of a final decision on the merits of the case.
This case is presently before me for a final ruling on the merits of the issues referred to the Master for proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Rule 53(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "in an action to be tried without a jury the court shall accept the Master's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous." See Kyriazi v. Western Electric Co., 647 F.2d 388, 396 (3d Cir. 1981); 5A Moore's Federal Practice P 53.12 (1984). The Master's findings of fact, therefore, carry a presumption of correctness. The Master's conclusions of law, however, carry no weight with the reviewing court. See Levin v. Garfinkle, 540 F. Supp. 1228, 1236 (E.D.Pa. 1982); C. Wright and A. Miller, 9 Federal Practice and Procedure § 2614 (1984); 5A Moore's Federal Practice para. 53.12 (footnote omitted). Moreover this court has an obligation to review a Master's legal conclusions on a de novo basis. See Polin v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 634 F.2d 1319, 1321 (10th Cir. 1980).
FINDINGS OF FACT OF THE SPECIAL MASTER
The Master's report describes the MCCI as a "relatively modern one-story detention facility" located in Freehold, New Jersey. Special Master's Report (SMR) at 9. The Master further described the facility as "sprawling, containing several cell blocks and dormitory areas connected by corridors." Id. At the outset he concluded that according to any measure the "MCCI has been seriously overcrowded in the last two years, and particularly so since January 1, 1983 . . . the evidence is overwhelming that a persistent and pernicious state of overcrowding at MCCI previously and presently exists, though to a lesser degree." SMR at 48. While the population of the MCCI has varied rather dramatically, the Master noted that the peak population of some 600 inmates occurred on March 6, 1983. The Master made the following findings with respect to the impact of this effectively conceded overcrowding on all aspects of inmate life and on the conditions of confinement generally.
Regarding the classification of inmates, the Master noted that all parties agree that sentenced inmates should be separated from pretrial detainees and that those accused or convicted of violent crimes should be separated from non-violent offenders. SMR at 50. The Master found that while the county had attempted to implement a meaningful classification system, "the persistent level of overcrowding continues to preclude an effective use of such a system, and indeed in some instances has caused the overcrowding." Id.
Regarding Medical screening of newly admitted inmates at MCCI, the Master found that overcrowding resulted in inadequate or delayed medical examinations. SMR at 51. Thus there was a risk that inmates carrying communicable diseases could be released into the general population at the jail. This is because the existing medical staff could not keep up with new admissions at MCCI. The Master further found that medical services in general were hampered by the increased population at the jail, causing extended delays in seeing a physician and an absence of available nursing services during night and early morning hours. On these facts, the Master concluded that overcrowding and understaffing at MCCI have led to conditions which "constitute a hazard to the health of both the individual inmates and the general inmate population." SMR at 51.
The Special Master also found, based on the testimony of expert witnesses for both the state and the plaintiffs as well as the testimony of the Warden and the Assistant Superintendent of MCCI, "that adequate recreation for inmates is an absolutely essential component for maintaining a minimal standard of decency for inmates." SMR at 51. Finding that one hour of recreation per day was necessary regardless of the population at the jail, the Master found that "available facilities and personnel of the institution were such that it would be virtually impossible to provide much more than one half hour per week of recreation for inmates at prior populations if only the existing indoor facility were utilized." SMR at 52. MCCI has a small indoor recreation area with some weight lifting equipment which can be used by about five inmates at one time. This finding was made even without reference to the testimony of inmates that recreation was virtually nonexistent prior to June of 1983.
The Master also found that persistent overcrowding at MCCI has had a "deleterious effect upon visitation opportunities" of the inmates. SMR at 53. Visitation periods per inmate amounted to approximately five to ten minutes at a maximum of three per week. In addition, the Master found the visitor area to be limited, providing no contact area and only large enough to accommodate approximately eight visitors at any one time. SMR at 11. He also found the waiting period for visitors to be excessive. Again, the Master found officials at MCCI to have made "reasonable efforts to accommodate" visitors, however, he found that the limitations of staff and of the physical plant, in light of inmate population, led to an "extremely limited quantity and quality of visitation." SMR at 54.
The Master's Report addressed one last area: the effects of overcrowding on the general quality of life for inmates at the jail. The Report states:
I find that the persistent levels of overcrowding have seriously diminished the quality of life, in terms of available space per inmate, for those individuals who are housed in the various dormitory and cellblock areas. They have been confined to their cells or dormitory wings virtually the entire day, seven days per week, with only 1-1/2 -- 2 hours per day out of their cell blocks in order to take their meals. Even this limited relief from the persistent conditions of confinement in their cells is not true for all inmates, since there is a substantial number of them who are "feed-ins." . . . the persistent levels of overcrowding at times has [sic] seriously limited the ability of inmates to utilize the dayrooms for daytime functions. The utilization of the dayroom areas as the sleeping quarters for some inmates, coupled with the total number of individuals incarcerated there, seriously limited the ability of inmates in the dormitories to move from their bunks to the dayroom area. Accordingly, the vast majority of these inmates simply sit on their bunks or mattresses most of the day watching television, reading or pursuing other passive pursuits. Because of poor lighting in some areas of MCCI, even these activities have often been curtailed.
In the Civil I and II cellblocks, these debilitating conditions have been even more extreme. Inmates often do not have a television in parts of this area and they are compelled to sit on their mattresses or bunks, or otherwise remain in extremely cramped quarters, virtually the entire day without any alternative activity. I find that some of these inmates in the cellblocks often cannot obtain access to the toilet facilities which are located in the cells, and that if they are unable to obtain the attention of a guard to unlock the cells so that they may utilize the toilets or urinals, they have on occasion been required to urinate into paper cups and pour their urine down drains which were within inches of their anteroom mattresses. I further find that on many occasions some toilets and sinks in the dormitory wings have been inoperable for substantial periods of time. I make no specific finding that this is exclusively the result of overcrowding, but take note of the fact that such disrepair, although common in all jail facilities whether overcrowded or not, is exacerbated by the greater usage which accompanies larger numbers of inmates, and the difficulty in temporarily moving inmates to other locations while repairs are made.
There are two additional cell block areas denominated Civil - 1 and Civil -2. Civil - 1 contains six cells each 12'10" x 6'9" for a total square footage of 86.6 square feet. The anteroom outside the cells in Civil -1 is 43'4" x 6'9" (292.5 sq. feet). Civil -2 contains twelve individual cells and is used to house inmates who cannot be released into the general population. Two of the cells are 9'8" x 6' (58 sq. feet) with an anteroom of 12'9" x 9'10" (125.33 sq. feet) and eight other cells are 11'10" x 6'9" (86.6 sq. feet) and are divided into three sections. The anterooms outside these cells vary in size. The final two cells of Civil -2 each measure 7'10" x 6' (46.98 sq. feet) with an anteroom of 13'7" x 8'10" (119.91 sq. feet).
In the basement of the facility there are two "holding tanks" each measuring 20'10" x 10'9" (224 sq. feet). An adjacent area known as the "DRC tank" is 20' x 11' (250 sq. feet). Three additional single cells in the basement are 9' x 6' each (54 sq. feet) and there are two isolation cells each 9'8" x 6' (57 sq. feet).
In light of the square footage of the dormitory units, the Master found that when the male population was in the vicinity of 550, 35-40 inmates were confined in each of eight units. This resulted in 15-18 square feet of sleeping space and 22-25 square feet of day space per inmate. Excluding the space occupied by tables, showers and sallyport areas, available living space drops by approximately two additional square feet. Living space is also reduced by the amount of space occupied by inmates who have been sleeping in day areas.
Additionally, the MCCI facility has two dining rooms which seat approximately 132 inmates. It also has a limited law library containing basic legal volumes and about 1,000 non-legal books. There is also a classroom utilized on weekdays to assist inmates in obtaining their high school diplomas, an area for medical examinations and a commissary.
In his Report, the Special Master noted that ongoing construction at MCCI will, when completed, substantially change the existing physical plant. The Master also noted a number of positive developments which have occurred at MCCI since the filing of the consolidated complaint. Foremost among them has been a "substantial reduction" in the inmate population. The population was approximately 400 at the time the Report was filed. SMR at 46. Conditions of confinement at the jail have improved accordingly, particularly sleeping accommodations.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW OF THE SPECIAL MASTER
After reviewing the spatial dimensions of the cell blocks, anterooms, day rooms and dormitories, the Master further noted that while limited square footage is not per se unconstitutional, "even the state concedes that maximum services, recreation and activity would be required to make such conditions constitutionally palatable." SMR at 62. The Report states that "the evidence indicates [that] precisely the contrary . . . ." Id. Pointing to the "virtually nonexistent" indoor recreation facilities at MCCI, the Master concluded that what little was available fell "far short of any constitutional standard when coupled with available square footage of living area," the underutilization of the outdoor recreational yard at MCCI, the limited opportunity for visitation, and the limited out of cell time which results from the size of the library, the classroom and the dining rooms. In sum, the Master concluded that "the totality of circumstances has resulted in unconstitutional punishment of pre-trial detainees who have been incarcerated at MCCI." SMR at 64.
Applying the standard enunciated by the Supreme Court for sentenced inmates in Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 69 L. Ed. 2d 59, 101 S. Ct. 2392 (1981) and its progeny, the Master concluded that some of the very same conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment,
although he noted that sentenced inmates "may probably be required to endure such conditions of confinement for a longer period of time. . . ." SMR at 64. Specifically, the Master drew the following conclusions from the evidence presented. Regarding the practice of permitting inmates to sleep on the floor with no mattress, the Master concluded that such a practice is "shocking to the conscience of any observer" and is, in any event, "substantial privation and wanton punishment." SMR at 64.
Regarding the practice of requiring sentenced inmates to sleep on the floor even with a mattress, the Master concluded that while "less repulsive" the practice "cannot pass constitutional muster." SMR at 65. The Report further states:
Viewed in light of contemporary standards of decency for inmates, this practice is dehumanizing, unsanitary, humiliating and repulsive when practiced for any period of time in excess of one or two days even under the most dire circumstances. Whether an inmate sleeps on a mattress beneath a bunk of another, in a cell anteroom, on a dayroom table, or in a shower stall, with or without rodents crawling over him, the practice is simply wrong, lacks any penological purpose, and "deprives inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities', Rhoades [Rhodes] v. Chapman, 452 U.S. at 347."
SMR at 65. Noting that the practice is "a virtually unrelenting aspect of life for many inmates," and that the "clutter of bodies" has an impact on conditions generally, the Master further explained that it "substantially limits the opportunity for daytime space for all inmates in those areas not designed for sleeping, exacerbates prison tensions, creates resentments and fighting over this barest of necessities, and poses a health hazard to all who are confined there." SMR at 66.
Pointing to the minimal amount of recreation provided to inmates particularly during the winter, to the limited living space and visiting opportunities and to the basic condition of overcrowding itself, the Master concluded that "regardless of the exigencies of prison management . . . these are additional facts which point, quite conclusively, to the unconstitutional nature of the conditions of confinement, even with reference to sentenced inmates, under the totality of circumstances of inmate life at MCCI at the higher population levels which have historically existed at the facility." SMR at 67.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE SPECIAL MASTER
The Special Master made the following remedial recommendations:
1. That an order be entered prohibiting the County from requiring any inmate to sleep on the floor without a mattress for any period of time.
2. That an order be entered prohibiting the County from requiring any inmate to sleep on the floor with a mattress except in exigent circumstances still not to exceed three days.
3. The County should be ordered to make specific sleeping space assignments to permit the court to monitor compliance with the orders suggested above.
4. The County should be required to insure that sentenced inmates rather than pretrial detainees use mattresses on the floor whenever necessary.
5. That the County be ordered to take immediate steps to improve indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities ...