A class of inmates, represented by the ACLU National Prison Project, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of all present and future inmates of the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, Virginia ("Penitentiary") against the Virginia Department of Corrections, alleging cruel and unusual punishment, violations of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association, deprivation of life and liberty without due process of law, and unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Plaintiffs were seeking injunctive relief.
The compliant details the injuries suffered by each of the named plaintiffs while incarcerated at the State Penitentiary: one plaintiff was robbed at knifepoint in his cell by two other inmates; another plaintiff was severely burned when another inmate set him and his cell on fire; another plaintiff complained that the cell block set aside for punitive or administrative segregation and protective custody was "filthy, roach infested, badly lit, badly ventilated, and structurally deteriorated;" another cellhouse allegedly lacked hot water, adequate lighting, and proper plumbing; still another cellhouse was so structurally unsound that water entered during rainstorms, and the cellhouse was infested by roaches, insects, and pigeons; the final named plaintiff claims he was required to receive official approval in order to receive delivery of a general circulation newspaper.
Further, the complaint details those conditions of confinement which affected the class as a whole. In particular, it alleged that the Penitentiary lacked a proper classification system to keep weaker or younger inmates separate from more predatory inmates, or those suffering mental problems separate from the general population; that staffing was far below adequate levels to maintain safety and order; that the idleness of the inmates increased the risk of violence; that meals did not meet minimum nutritional or sanitary standards; that the visiting room was operated in an arbitrary manner; that the guidelines for allowance of publications were applied arbitrarily (allowing Ku Klux Klan magazines, but not The Best of Norman Rockwell, or allowing Playboy, but not Hustler); and that inmates housed in segregation were not allowed adequate recreation and showers.
On June 29, 1983, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Magistrate Judge David G. Lowe), dismissed the case, finding for the State on all counts. While the Court recognized that conditions at the Penitentiary were indeed unpleasant, they did not rise to the level of constitutional violations; on each issue which involved conflicting evidence, the Court found that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden and found for the defendants. While not finding a constitutional violation, the Court did note that the substance abuse and trafficking problems at the Penitentiary were particularly troublesome.
On June 22, 1987, a Settlement Agreement was entered by the Court (Mag. Judge Lowe). It appears that one issue in the case remained, and was at one point appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and then remanded to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The settlement agreement sets forth procedures to be followed for the securing of all tools and scarp metals, apparently due to safety concerns.Megan Raynor - 03/25/2006