Plaintiffs, black and white current, former, and prospective inmates in Georgia penal institutions, brought a civil rights law suit through counsel affiliated in various ways with the ACLU in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against all the state's prison and jail ...
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Plaintiffs, black and white current, former, and prospective inmates in Georgia penal institutions, brought a civil rights law suit through counsel affiliated in various ways with the ACLU in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against all the state's prison and jail officials alleging violations of their Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, the complaint sought (1) to abolish racial segregation in all jails and penal institutions in Georgia; (2) to prevent the alleged discrimination in the employment of blacks at penal institutions and as sheriffs in Georgia; and (3) to abolish all county public works camps in Georgia. A three-judge district court panel awarded relief to desegregate the penal facilities, but denied the remaining relief sought. Wilson v. Kelley, 294 F.Supp 1005 (N.D. Ga. 1968) (Judge Sidney O. Smith).
Georgia law segregated inmates on the basis of race. Inmates not in the state system were segregated as a matter of custom. In light of a recent Supreme Court decision, the district court held that this type of racial segregation, and therefore the statutes, violated the Fourteenth Amendment and ordered the complete integration of all city and county jails, county public works camps, state correctional institutions and juvenile facilities within six months, on or before January 1, 1969. The court said that prison officials could take racial tensions into account concerning security and discipline, but that they could only do so when acting in good faith in response to some actual evidence.
The district court panel refused to grant relief on the other two requests. First, despite evidence that the majority of inmates were black and that the overwhelming majority of corrections jobs were filled by whites, the court dismissed plaintiffs' second claim reasoning that there was not a proper class of plaintiffs nor a proper defendant class representative in the case. Specifically, none of the members of the plaintiff class had ever applied for work in a correctional facility and they failed to show that a member of the defendant class could grant the relief requested. In a separate opinion, another judge dissented, arguing that plaintiffs were a proper class because they were affected by the hiring practices. (Judge Tuttle, concurring in part and dissenting in part).
The court also rejected plaintiffs' claim that the work camps constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and involuntary servitude under the Thirteenth Amendment because they offered only physical labor and not academic and trade programs like other facilities. The court reasoned that plaintiffs were not a representative class, as some prisoners at the work camp might prefer that assignment, and that there was not a clear abuse of discretion that would warrant disregarding the longstanding policy of courts to not interfere in prison administration and discipline.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in a per curiam judgment without opinion. Wilson v. Kelley, 393 U.S. 266 (1968).
Although the docket for this case is not available on PACER, activity continued after the Supreme Court decision. According to an August 11, 1975 memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigations from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the United States became a party intervenor in the case in 1973 for purposes of enforcement. Since that time, the memo states that United States had brought enforcement actions against five Georgia counties and that private plaintiffs had also brought enforcement actions. The memo requested the assistance of the FBI to determine if jails not yet investigated were in compliance with the 1968 court order. One such investigation, concluded with an FBI report dated September 14, 1976, revealed that one facility became integrated as a result of the Justice Departments' out of court efforts.Sherrie Waldrup - 03/06/2006