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AHMAD UTHMAN SHABAZZ v. O'LONE

October 15, 1984

AHMAD UTHMAN SHABAZZ and SADR-UD-DIN MATEEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
EDWARD O'LONE, Individually, and in his official capacity as Administrator of Leesburg Prison Complex, JAMES A. UCCI, Individually, and in his official capacity as Chief Deputy Keeper of Leesburg Prison Complex, and WILLIAM FAUVER, Individually, and in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERRY

 This case was brought under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The plaintiffs, two inmates at the New Jersey State Prison at Leesburg, sought a preliminary injunction restraining the defendants, various correctional officials at Leesburg, from interfering with their attendance at the Jumu'ah, a Muslim congregational service occurring every Friday shortly after the noon hour. Pursuant to Rule 65(a) (2), the parties have agreed to consolidate the preliminary and permanent injunction applications. A hearing was held on June 20 and 21, 1984. The following constitutes the court's Rule 52(a) findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the propriety of the issuance of the injunction.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. Plaintiff Shabazz is a prisoner at Leesburg who has been a practicing Muslim since 1973. His security status within the institution is "gang minimum." *fn1" Plaintiff Mateen is also a prisoner at Leesburg, a practicing Muslim since 1977, and a "full minimum" inmate. There is no question as to the sincerity of the religious beliefs of either plaintiff. The defendants in this case are: William Fauver, New Jersey Commissioner of Corrections; Edward O'Lone, Leesburg Superintendent; and James Ucci, Chief Deputy at Leesburg.

 2. Leesburg is a medium security state prison located on approximately 1100 acres of land. On this site, there is a main prison building which houses inmates assigned to maximum and gang minimum custody status. A second building, the Farm, houses only those inmates having full minimum status. *fn2"

 In April 1983, the New Jersey Department of Corrections promulgated Standard 853, which sets out three prisoner custody levels, the privileges and responsibilities attached to each, and the criteria for assignment to each. Those prisoners considered the greatest security risk have "maximum" custody status. Such inmates "shall be assigned to activities within the confines of the security of the institution under continuous supervision." In the case of Leesburg, this means that such inmates must remain within the main building. There is an intermediate classification, "gang minimum." Inmates classified as gang minimum, according to Standard 853, "shall be assigned to activities or jobs which routinely require them to move outside the security of the institution, on institutional grounds, and within eyesight of a correction officer . . . or other employee authorized to supervise them." Successful completion of a period at gang minimum is a prerequisite to the attainment of "full minimum" status, the lowest security level. Inmates classified as full minimum, in the words of the Standard, "must be assigned to either (1) work details, jobs, or programs outside the main institution, on or off institutional grounds, with minimal supervision, or (2) a satellite unit or minimum security trailer unit (such as the Farm building), or (3) both (1) and (2)." Prior to April 1983, inmates had been eligible to proceed directly from maximum to full minimum status. Apparently, however, this somewhat radical reduction in supervision had been problematic, prompting the change reflected in the Standard. Also, apparently, prior to April 1983 certain inmates classified as gang minimum held jobs within the confines of their institutions (e.g., within the "main building"). The language of Standard 853, however, seems to mandate that gang minimum inmates routinely work outside the institutional buildings where they are housed, on institutional grounds. It seems that the new "outside" policy reflected in the standard was at least in part a response to a critical overcrowding in the state's prisons, and that the policy was at least in part designed to ease tension and drain on the facilities during that part of the day when the inmates were outside the confines of the main buildings.

 According to the defendants, the new policy of increased outside assignments was not easily implemented. Although the number of inmates assigned to outside details gradually rose after April 1983, some inmates, for a variety of reasons, were able to avoid actually reporting for their assignments. Moreover, some inmates who went out on their work details, found reasons -- legitimate or otherwise -- for returning to the main building during the course of the work day. In the months following April 1983, the defendants instituted a few changes whereby those assigned to outside details would remain outside for the entire work day. For example, arrangements were made for lunch to be brought out to inmates rather than have them return to the institution for lunch; similarly, medications were brought out to the inmates, and appointments with doctors or social workers were scheduled for the late afternoon or early evening (following the end of the work day). These changes culminated in a memo dated March 7, 1984 and directed to the Leesburg inmate population. The memo reads as follows:

 
Due to the increase of the size of outside details at both Medium [the main building] and Minimum [the Farm], once an inmate goes to work in the morning, he will remain on his detail throughout the day. He will no longer be brought back into the institution on a normal work day unless it is an emergency. In the event of an emergency, your detail officer will contact his immediate supervisor, who will see to it that you are brought in.

 Thus this flat ban -- except for emergencies -- on returns to the facilities during the day has the effect of preventing practicing Muslims who work outside from participating in the Friday Jumu'ah service.

 3. The Jumu'ah service is a congregational service with a minister, or imam, presiding. It is the only congregational service of the week, and it therefore is comparable to the Saturday service of the Jewish faith and the Sunday service of the various Christian sects. The service occurs on Fridays and must take place after the sun reaches its apex and before the next scheduled Muslim prayer, the Asr, a prayer performed individually in the mid-afternoon. Thus, Jumu'ah may only be said during a limited number of hours. In addition, unlike other Muslim prayers which are performed individually and can be made up if missed, the Jumu'ah is obligatory, cannot be made up, and must be performed in congregation. The Jumu'ah is therefore regarded as the central service of the Muslim religion, and the obligation to attend is commanded by the Qur'an, the central book of the Muslim religion.

 4. Plaintiff Mateen testified that to his knowledge, Jumu'ah services, up until the March 1984 memo, had been conducted on a regular basis at Leesburg for at least the previous five years. Prior to March 1984, those Muslim prisoners classified as gang minimum who were housed at the main facility, assigned to outside work details, and who wished to attend the Jumu'ah were permitted to remain in the prison and work on an alternate detail within the main building on Fridays so that they could attend the service. Muslim prisoners housed on the Farm and assigned to outside work reported on Fridays to their regular work assignment but were permitted to return by themselves to the Farm to worship. Those inmates who remain inside the buildings may still attend Jumu'ah. In March 1984, the defendants changed the alternate work detail from a gang minimum detail to a maximum detail, thus eliminating the opportunity for gang minimum inmates assigned to outside details to remain inside on Fridays and attend the Jumu'ah.

 At the time the complaint in this case was filed (and to this day), plaintiff Shabazz was a gang minimum inmate. Prior to March 1984, he had a job inside the main building and attended Jumu'ah. Since March 1984, Shabazz has worked outside and has been unable to attend the Jumu'ah. At the time the complaint was filed, plaintiff Mateen was also a gang minimum inmate. Prior to March 1984, he was assigned outside and worked the alternate detail on Fridays. After March 1984, he remained outside and was therefore unable to attend the Jumu'ah. However, on May 31, 1984, Mateen was reassigned to minimum status and transferred to the Farm. He was assigned to work in the kitchen, an inside job, so that presently he is able to attend the Jumu'ah. Although there was testimony from the defendants that job assignments are fairly constant, the court is not convinced that Mateen will not, at some time in the near future, be reassigned to an outside detail and consequently be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the Friday Service. (Accordingly, we will reject the defendants' mootness argument as to Mateen.)

 5. At issue in this case are two regulations -- Standard 853 and the March 7, 1984 memo -- applicable to all Leesburg inmates, which, in combination, have the effect of denying plaintiffs the opportunity to attend the Jumu'ah. *fn3" In their testimony, defendants Ucci and O'Lone advanced several justifications for the two regulations. Standard 853 was explained as a response to prison overcrowding. The mandate that gang minimum prisoners work outside their institutions was described as a means to alleviate the tension produced by the presence of many men at close quarters, as well as a means to reduce the strain on institutional resources. Moreover, the mandatory transitional gang minimum level was seen as a means for reducing the "shock" caused by the sudden reduction in supervision.

 The March 7, 1984 memo, it was stated, served a couple of purposes. The first objective had to do with "traffic control." The evidence establishes that, surrounding the main building at Leesburg, there is a gate through which all inmates entering the building must pass. At the time of entry, inmates must be strip-searched and otherwise processed. This same gate is the receiving area for all visitors to the institution, including the trucks making the frequent deliveries of supplies to the facility. It was felt by defendants that there was too much congestion at this gate, that too many guards were required to handle all the traffic, and that deliveries were unduly delayed. *fn4" Thus, the March 1984 directive effectively put an end to this congestion problem at the main building. However, this goal does not account for the prohibition on full minimum prisoners returning to the Farm during the day, since these prisoners do not have to pass through the gate to enter the Farm unit. A second goal was advanced in support of the March 1984 policy. This goal was framed in terms of rehabilitation. It was stated that, in order for prisoners to be ready to undertake careers in the free society they would have to learn to work a full, productive day without taking time off from their jobs to pursue personal matters. Thus, the new policy was designed to eliminate interruptions in the work day, interruptions which had been reduced by prior means (see No. 2, supra), but not totally eliminated. The policy took some pressure off guards supervising outside details, who, previously, had had to evaluate ...


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