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MONMOUTH CTY. CORRECTIONAL INST. INMATES v. LANZAR

September 1, 1988

MONMOUTH COUNTY CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION INMATES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM LANZARO, Sheriff, et al., and WILLIAM H. FAUVER, Commissioner, N.J. Department of Corrections, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ACKERMAN

 I. INTRODUCTION

 This is an action in which a class of inmates challenge 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 inmates at MCCI and the 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. *fn1" This action in its present form was commenced on June 4, 1983, when this court consolidated the complaints of various pro se inmates which had been filed during the preceding months of 1982. By order of this Court dated June 6, 1983, the matter was referred to a Special Master, James R. Zazzali, Esq., pursuant to Rule 53(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure *fn2" , to inter alia :

 
conduct a thorough examination into the totality of the conditions at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution.

 Pursuant to this provision of the order, the Special Master has filed a series of reports concerning the status of the conditions at the jail.

 The most recent report is the by-product of a series of hearings convened by the Special Master. By letter dated November 14, 1986, the Master wrote all counsel that:

 
After careful consideration of this matter, the Master has concluded that it is appropriate to conduct a hearing with respect to the extant conditions at MCCI, the efforts made by the parties to alleviate the overcrowding; general compliance with the order of the court; the double bunking situation; and the question of whether the death of Christopher Marks was caused directly or indirectly by either overcrowding conditions or noncompliance with . . . [the order of the court].

 As a result of this letter, the Master conducted hearings on December 4, 1986, February 5, 1987, March 16, 1987, and April 22, 1987, at which twenty witnesses testified. Following these proceedings, the Master submitted a report to me which reflects his consideration of the parties' proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, as well as the responses thereto. The plaintiff class, county and state have filed objections to the Master's report in this court.

 Upon review of his report and objections thereto, I ordered the parties to submit their proposed findings of fact conclusions of law to me for my consideration. I have considered these proposals in light of the record, the report of the Master as well as my own surprise inspection of the facility, which I conducted with the Master on March 9, 1988.

 Thus, the case is presently before me for a ruling on the merits of the issues most recently considered by the Master. In considering this matter, I am mindful that I must "accept the Master's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous." Fed. R. Civ. P. 53(e)(2); Kyriazi v. Western Electric Co., 647 F.3d 388, 396 (3d Cir. 1981); 5A Moore's Federal Practice para. 53.12[4] (1984). The findings of fact, therefore, carry a presumption of correctness. His conclusions of law, however, carry no weight with the reviewing court, and therefore, the court has an obligation to review the Master's legal conclusions on a de novo basis. See Polin v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 634 F.2d 1319, 1321 (10th Cir. 1980); Levin v. Garfinkle, 540 F. Supp. 1228, 1236 (E.D. Pa. 1982); 9 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2614 (1971); 5A Moore's Federal Practice para. 53.12[5] (footnote omitted).

 II. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE SPECIAL MASTER

 The Master found that extensive renovations have been completed at the facility. Specifically, improvements have been made in the lighting, heating, ventilation, and plumbing systems and each wing has been painted. In addition, two new wings have been constructed, which each include a total of 128 cells that have been double bunked and thereby house 256 inmates.

 With respect to recreation, the Master acknowledged that MCCI is only one of two county jails that has a large recreation area. To increase use, recreational equipment has been installed. Although male inmates are accorded one hour of recreation per day, the opportunities available to those males housed in the holding area were not clearly established. In addition, he found that female inmates have not been consistently offered a meaningful opportunity to engage in active recreation.

 As to the classification system, the Master found that upon entry into the institution each male inmate is booked and interviewed, his charges and rap sheet are reviewed and he is given a classification score upon which he is assigned to one of the various sections of the facility. The Master found, however, that the classification system used in the female wing is deficient and that such a system is non-existent in the holding area.

 As to visitation, the Master noted that visitation has expanded to six days per week and the visiting area has been improved to include additional visitation booths.

 The Master also found that the county has built a spacious, state of the art medical facility. Medical services are provided by several physicians of the Colts Neck Medical Group approximately 26 hours per week. In addition, eleven nurses rotate to provide 24 hour on-site nursing care.

 Each inmate is screened for any medical problems upon entry to the institution. This initial screening process includes a blood test, urinanalysis, blood pressure check and PPD test. Thereafter, sick call for inmates with specific complaints is conducted each day.

 Finally, with respect to population, the Master found that the 1984 court ordered male population cap has been exceeded on at least fifty occasions. He further noted that the court-ordered maximum capacity should be modified in light of renovations at the facility. Finally, he recommended that a cap of fifty-six should be set on the women's wing and a cap of thirty be set in the holding area, upon completion of renovations and the provision of recreational opportunities.

 In light of these facts, the Master concluded that the institution has made substantial progress in bringing the facility in compliance with the order of the court. Specifically, he concluded that renovations to the physical plant have improved the facility and the jail has made a good faith effort to complete these renovations with a minimum disruption to the daily routine of the institution.

 In the area of recreation, the Master concluded that MCCI has accorded all male inmates, with the exception of those in the holding area, an opportunity to engage in one hour of meaningful recreation per day and is therefore in compliance with the orders of this court. However, the Master recommends that the county keep records of recreational opportunities to demonstrate the continued availability of the recreational programs.

 With respect to the provision of recreational opportunities for those housed in the holding area, the Master states that as the inmates were occasionally provided recreation, and as the evidence with respect to the specific frequency same was offered is unclear, the Master stated that he could not recommend a finding that the defendants were not in compliance with the court's order in this regard. He does recommend, however, that inmates housed in holding beyond 48 hours be offered the opportunity to engage in one hour of recreation, which is to be recorded in a daily log. He further recommends that sanctions be imposed for failure to comply with this requirement.

 The Master has also concluded that MCCI has implemented a meaningful classification system but that defendants must improve the system so as to separate the inmates into more discrete categories and to attempt to separate sentenced prisoners from pretrial detainees while mindful of the need to separate those with differing personality types.

 The Master also concludes that the classification system in the holding area is deficient and must be modified to account for the disparate mix of inmates housed there, with an emphasis on separating aggressive inmates from new admittees. The Master also concludes that the women do not have a meaningful classification system.

 In addition, he concludes that visitation has vastly improved since the commencement of this litigation.

 With respect to population, the Master states that the defendants need not make a formal application in order to modify the population cap for male inmates, originally set at 304. He further asserts that the court's mandate allows him to recommend modifications to the cap in light of renovations. He concludes that in light of the renovations and completion of Wings G & H, the capacity of the facility, excluding the holding area, is 560. He further concludes that the holding area may be used to house up to 30 additional inmates upon renovations to the ventilation, lighting and plumbing in that area, as well as the provision of the opportunity to engage in one hour of meaningful recreation per day. He requests that proof of such improvements be submitted to him within 30 days of the court order, and recommends that defendants should be precluded from using the holding area if they fail to make such renovations.

 The Master also concluded that there have been substantial periods since 1986 when MCCI was not in compliance with the court's cap of 304 male inmates, and in fact exceeded the cap on at least 50 occasions between November 1986 and March of 1987. The Master states that while the county has attempted to reduce the inmate population by restricting the admission of municipally-sentenced inmates and through a lawsuit to compel the state to remove the state-sentenced inmates, it is necessary to ensure compliance with the court ordered cap by instituting a system under which the defendant to whom the violation is attributable will be fined $ 100 per inmate per day, over the cap, whenever the capacity is exceeded.

 With respect to the capacity of the women's wing, the Master observed that the parties assumed that the capacity of the area was 40, as there are 40 cells in that area. The Master noted, however, that since no capacity was formally set, the defendants have not been in violation of any court-ordered cap. The Master does recommend that the court set a capacity of 56 inmates in that area, in light of the fact that 16 of the 40 cells have sufficient square footage to permit double bunking. He makes this recommendation with the proviso that the female inmates be offered one hour of out-of-cell recreation per day and that same be documented.

 I will now review the record to determine whether or not the Master's findings are clearly erroneous and whether or not defendants are in substantial compliance with the order of this court dated October 10, 1984. In that order, I directed defendants to take the following remedial measures to render conditions at MCCI constitutional under the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution:

 
1. That defendants take all necessary steps to renovate the MCCI facility particularly with regard to lighting, ventilation, heating and plumbing.
 
2. That all inmates be given one hour of meaningful recreation per day in an enlarged space away from their sleeping area except in emergent circumstances but in no event shall any inmate miss more than two days of such recreational opportunity consecutively and that further, MCCI investigate possibilities for indoor recreational space if necessary to comply with this order on a year round basis.
 
3. That all inmates be given a bed, a mattress and bedding (to be placed where feasible but not so as to restrict day time living space unnecessarily except that inmates may be required to sleep on the floor with a mattress in emergent circumstances but in no event without a mattress and in no event for longer than 48 hours (pre-trial detainees) or two weeks (sentenced inmates).
 
4. That a meaningful classification system for inmates be developed and implemented.
 
5. That visitation hours be substantially increased.
 
6. That an additional nurse be hired and that medical screening be done prior to release of any inmate into the general population.
 
7. That the population at MCCI not be permitted to exceed 344 inmates (40 female, 304 male) and that State and County defendants take whatever means necessary to comply with this order.

 Before evaluating the Master's findings of fact in each of these areas, the court apologizes for its tardiness in delivering this opinion. Its preoccupation with a particular criminal matter has caused the pace of its entire civil docket to slow down.

 III. FINDINGS OF FACT

 A. PHYSICAL PLANT AND RENOVATIONS

 (1) Physical Plant and Renovations: Generally

 (a). The court's order, dated October 10, 1984, directed that the defendants take steps to renovate the facility, particularly with regard to the lighting, ventilation, heating and plumbing.

 (2) Physical Layout and Renovations: Male Unit

 (a). General renovations at the facility have included the installation of new lighting, ventilation, exhaust and heating systems, improvements to the plumbing and the painting of the facility. In addition, new officer control booths have been built and the locks on the cell doors have been computerized.

 (b). Cell Blocks A and B have been repainted and new ventilation, lighting and heat detector systems have been installed.

 (c). The thirty-two cells of Wings A and B have been painted and a new lighting and exhaust system has been installed. In addition, the beds have been refurbished.

 (d). Wings C and D have also been repainted and new lighting and ventilation systems have been installed.

 (e). I take judicial notice that the renovation of Wings E and F have been completed since the hearings. Improvements have been made with respect to ventilation, heating and lighting and the wings have been repainted.

 (f). Wings G and H are newly constructed and have adequate heating, lighting and ventilation. Each wing has five pods. One of the five pods in each wing has eight cells, two of the pods have twelve cells, and two of the pods have sixteen cells. Each of the total of 128 cells is seventy square feet. Each pod has a day room with tables and stools and television.

 (g). I take judicial notice that the renovations to Trustees 1 and 2 are completed.

 (h). A new medical wing has been built. See discussion infra.

 (i). New privacy screens have been installed in the visiting area. See discussion infra.

 (j). The day space has been relocated.

 (3) Physical Plant and Renovations: Women's Unit

 (a). The record does not demonstrate that there have been any renovations in the women's unit.

 (b). The women's facilities are more spacious than those occupied by the male inmates. The female inmates have larger cells, occupied by only one person. Sixteen of the forty cells measure 68 square feet. (10' x 7' x 9').

 (c). The women's unit has a maximum and minimum security wing, with 16 cells each, a processing area, medical wing, a juvenile section, civil wing, and two isolation cells. In the maximum security wing, each cell has its own toilet and sink. In the minimum security wing, there is a communal area which contains two showers, four sinks, and four toilets.

 (d). The female inmates have a separate dining area to eat and cook in, with tables that accommodate either groups of four or six. They also have access to a laundry room, beauty culture room, and small outdoor recreation area.

 (4) Physical Plant and Renovations: Holding Area

 (b). The entire area is dully, dingy, dark and dungeon-like, but not filthy or rodent infested.

 (c). There have been no renovations to the holding area itself to permit accommodating inmates for anything more than temporary placement. Rather, renovations have been limited to new lighting in the entry area.

 (d). Renovations are necessary, particularly with respect to the lighting and ventilation system, if the county is going to utilize the area to house inmates and new admittees for an extended period. The county, however, does not currently contemplate making any improvements.

 B. RECREATION

 (1) Recreation: Generally

 (a). The court's decree, dated October 10, 1984, ordered that all inmates be given one hour of meaningful recreation per day in an enlarged space, separate from their sleeping area and directed MCCI to investigate the possibilities for indoor recreational space to the extent necessary to comply with this order on a year round basis.

 (2) Recreation: Male Inmates

 (a). The male inmates have access to an existing outdoor recreation space twice per day, in an area which is more than adequate to afford active recreational opportunities to every male inmate other than during inclement weather. The area can accommodate up to 100 inmates at one time. The space is paved and includes basketball facilities and other exercise equipment. MCCI is one of the few county facilities which has outdoor recreation space.

 (b). To date, the county has presented no definite plans with respect to enclosing this yard to increase space available for active recreation during inclement weather nor has the court been privy to the progress of its investigation as to its use of currently existing indoor space for active recreation during inclement weather.

 (c). During inclement weather, the inmates have an opportunity twice per day to engage in recreation in the jail's largest dining room, which is approximately 1/4 of the size of the outdoor yard. In this room, the inmates play passive table games. In addition, the male inmates have access to a room with universal gym equipment, which can accommodate up to six people at one time.

 (d). While all male inmates have an opportunity to take advantage of recreational activities, many do not avail themselves of the opportunities. Rather, many prefer to sleep or watch television. Hence, the facilities are under-utilized.

 (e). The institution has instituted a new log system to document daytime recreation provided to all inmates except for those housed in the holding area. This system is working accurately and adequately. Prior to the implementation of this system, however, records were maintained in a haphazard fashion.

 (3) Recreation: Female Inmates

 (a). The female inmates have access to a small outdoor yard that they can use for volleyball or basketball when the weather so permits. The space, however, is used less frequently than the one used by the male inmates and there have been problems assuring that all female inmates are accorded one hour of meaningful recreation per day.

 Usage is affected by weather, and the availability of both proper attire and corrections officers to supervise the activities of the inmates.

 (b). The female inmates participate in passive indoor recreation in a small arts and crafts room or in the kitchen area. In those areas, the female inmates engage in passive games, such as cards, checkers, chess, and ping pong, or read or listen to the radio. The female inmates have access to this room for two hours each evening. In addition to these indoor areas, the female inmates have access to a beauty parlor room, which has a styling chair, sink and mirror, as well as a sewing room.

 In addition, each of the three sections of the women's unit has a television.

 (c). Thus, since the female inmates have no indoor space available for active recreation, their indoor recreation opportunities are limited to passive activities.

 (d). The female inmates no longer have access to universal weight room since this area is now used as the space in which new female inmates are processed.

 (e). The female inmates are offered a school program. Specifically, a teacher visits the facility for one hour per day, each week day, to teach basic reading, English, and math as well as high school algebra. Up to eight inmates may participate in each session. *fn3"

 (f). The County does not maintain records regarding recreational opportunities offered to the female inmates.

 (4) Recreation: Holding Area

 (a). There is no clear documentation which establishes that recreation is offered to or taken advantage by those housed in the holding area.

 (b). The testimony reveals that those in the holding area are not always offered an opportunity to participate in recreational activities.

 (c). In addition, it appears few housed in the holding area participate in such activities when offered.

 C. BEDS AND BEDDING

 1. Pursuant to the Court's order, dated October 10, 1984, the defendants were ordered to provide all inmates with a bed, mattress and bedding, to be placed so as to not obstruct daytime living space. The order further provided that mattresses may be placed directly on the floor only in emergent situations, but for a period of no longer than 48 hours for pretrial detainees or two weeks for sentenced inmates.

 2. No male inmate has been required to sleep on the floor without a mattress since October of 1984. Rather, since that time all inmates have been given bed and mattress.

 3. At the time of the hearings, no female inmate had ever been required to sleep on the floor. Rather, each has ...


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