On November 4, 1970, the Imprisoned Citizens Union, an unincorporated association composed of prisoners of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs, represented in part by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleged that the defendants had violated their constitutional rights by failing to furnish them with necessities for personal hygiene (like shampoo, deodorant, razor blades, razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste), placing them in disciplinary solitary confinement for as long as seven years at a time without notice or a hearing, and failing to give them notice of the rules that govern their conduct in the prison or what punishments are to be imposed for infractions. They also complained of confinement in filthy, vermin-infested subterranean dungeons, lack of ventilation, lack of bedding, lack of adequate clothing, starvation diets, sack of sanitation, harassment and assault with weapons and chemicals, physical assaults by goon squads of custodial personnel, lack of a law library, cutting them off from communicating with news media, lack of exercise, invasion of privacy by reading and restricting their mail, refusing to allow them to read books, magazines, newspapers, instructional materials, and public documents, providing no light source within the cell, as well as lack of educational programs, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants would transfer them for the malicious purposes of isolating them from their families and their attorneys, causing them to lose seniority in the inmate population's programming, and intimidating them to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants also provided inadequate medical care, arbitrarily and capriciously required them to ingest tranquilizing drugs like Thorazine, and punished plaintiffs who refused to take the medicine. They claimed that the ingestion of such drugs on a continual, daily basis caused permanent mental imbalance to members of the plaintiff class. They claimed that the defendants failed to provide prosthetic devices such as false teeth and eyeglasses to plaintiffs who required them. They claimed that the prisons were controlled by racist prison officials who deliberately instigated and provoked racial tensions, riots, and interracial violence by enforcing discriminatory and racist policies. Finally, they claimed that the defendants forced them to submit to arbitrary strip searches, vandalize their cells, and restrict their visitation privileges.
On December 20, 1977, the parties agreed and stipulated that the defendants would provide a law library with specified books for the defendant population.
Three similar cases (Owens v. Murdock, Ray v. Rundle, and Bracey v. Prasse) were consolidated with this case, and on April 8, 1976, the parties entered into a consent decree, which the District Court (Judge Joseph Simon Lord III) approved on May 22, 1978. Under the decree, the defendants agreed to promulgate an official code of conduct covering all aspects of institutional life relating to the conduct of residents and officials involved in the prison system. The code was to specify, among other things, the prison rules, the disciplinary system, levels of punishment, and a fair system of hearings. The decree also covered health care, mail, clothing, hygiene items, use of physical and chemical restraints (like mace), searches of the residents and their cells, visitation, lighting, toilets in each cell, running water in each cell, ventilation, transfers between prisons, clothing, and retaliation against prisoners who exercise their right to sue.
On June 7, 1978, the District Court (Judge Lord) settled the issues not covered under the consent decree, ruling that the conditions in the maximum security areas at Graterford, Dallas, and Muncy did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court found that the three cells at Huntingdon known as the "Glass Cage" were constitutionally unacceptable and ordered them closed. The Court further found that the prohibition against conjugal visitation at each of the state prisons did not offend the Constitution. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 451 F.Supp. 894 (E.D.Pa. 1978).
Rather than closing the "Glass Cage," the defendants alleged that the constitutional defects in those cells had been cured, and they asked the court to dissolve that part of the injunction. On November 20, 1978, the District Court (Judge Lord) held that because of physical and procedural improvements, the use of the cells no longer violated the Constitution, and the Court dissolved that part of the injunction. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 461 F.Supp. 522 (E.D.Pa. 1978).
The plaintiffs asked the Court to award them their attorneys' fees, and on June 18, 1979, the District Court (Judge Lord) held that the plaintiffs were entitled to have the defendants pay all of their fees. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 473 F.Supp. 1028 (E.D.Pa. 1979).
On June 30, 1982, the parties agreed and stipulated that they wanted the Court to dispose of any outstanding contempt claims that the plaintiffs had made against the defendants. In return, the defendants agreed to reorganize the Hearing Committee, replacing all current members and instituting new procedures that the plaintiffs considered to be fair. This stipulation was amended one month later, with minor changes to the makeup of the Hearing Committee and its procedures.
On July 30, 1982, the parties also agreed that the plaintiffs would not object to the defendants' standard cell check procedures, so long as the defendants would not use cell searches for the purpose of harassing inmates.
In the years following the adoption of the consent decree, the Court received a large number of inmate letters complaining that the decree was being repeatedly violated. The defendants asked the court to dismiss all allegations of contempt. The Court charged U.S. Magistrate Judge William F. Hall, Jr. with the duty to investigate the complaints to see whether they had merit. On May 4, 1983, Judge Hall submitted his report and recommendation to the District Court, recommending that the District Court grant the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaints. One week later, the District Court (Judge Lord) approved and adopted the Magistrate's recommendation.
On June 8, 1988, the District Court again awarded the plaintiffs their attorneys' fees, finding that the plaintiff attorneys had done an excellent job at representing their clients in this litigation. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, No. 70-3054, 1988 WL 59270, (E.D.Pa. Jun. 8, 1988).
In 1991, Donald Jones, a Pennsylvania inmate, attempted to bring a contempt claim against the defendants, but the District Court (Judge Fullam) dismissed the complaint for lack of venue, advising the plaintiff to re-file the complaint in one of the other district courts. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, No. 91-0217, 1991 WL 16720, (E.D.Pa. Feb. 5, 1991).
After a string of similar individual claims of contempt, the District Court (Judge Jan E. DuBois) held on December 9, 1996, that only allegations of institution or system-wide violations of the decree could be considered as the basis for contempt proceedings, and that the class counsel had to bring such allegations, rather than individual plaintiffs. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 977 F.Supp. 335 (E.D.Pa. 1996).
In 1998, the defendants asked the Court to terminate the consent decree pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that the PLRA was unconstitutional. On May 4, 1998, the District Court (Judge DuBois) held that the PLRA was constitutional and granted the request to terminate the decree. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 11 F.Supp.2d 586 (E.D.Pa. 1998). The plaintiffs appealed. On February 25, 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Judge Samuel Alito) affirmed the District Court's termination of the decree. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 169 F.3d 180 (3rd Cir. 1999).Kristen Sagar - 10/04/2007