Several prisoners at the Marion Federal Penitentiary, represented by private counsel, on July 24, 1984, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983-based complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. They primarily alleged that the defendants, federal prison officials, violated the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment and their Fifth Amendment due process guarantees, making the prisoners entitled to injunctive and monetary relief. On August 1, 1985, the court certified the case as a class action, with the class defined as present and future prisoners at the Marion facility. According to the plaintiffs, prison conditions existing in connection with a "lockdown" resulted in the constitutional violations. These conditions included use of excessive force, rectal searches, lengthy confinement in cells, and arbitrary procedures by which prisoners were placed at and transferred to Marion.
Beginning in January, 1985, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Meyers conducted a multi-day hearing to consider the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Judge Meyers subsequently issued a report and recommendation finding no constitutional violations stemming from the defendants' practices at the prison. The plaintiffs objected to the magistrate's findings. District Judge James L. Foreman then reviewed the record made before the magistrate and supplemented it, both with additional hearings and a personal, unannounced visit to the Marion facility.
On February 25, 1987, Judge Foreman adopted the magistrate's report, agreeing that the conditions in Marion, considered alone or in combination, do not violate the Constitution. The judge found acceptable the prison officials' use of force and restraints, as well as the limitations on out of cell time (which varied, depending on the housing unit, with a minimum of five hours per week provided for those in disciplinary or protective custody). He found that no due process right entitled prisoners to hearings preceding transfer to or within Marion, nor were officials' procedures governing prisoners' access to legal materials, attorney visitation, and handling of legal mail constitutionally infirm. Provision made for group religious services, although limited, sufficed in view of documented security concerns. Such concerns also precluded the court from finding the physical rectal search practices at the prison that violated the Eighth Amendment, according to Judge Foreman. Citing findings of an ongoing, on-site study by an expert in psychiatry, the court determined that the several complained-of practices did not, considered in their totality, create conditions resulting in cruel and unusual punishment. Bruscino v. Carlson, 654 F. Supp 609 (S.D. IL. 1987).
An appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Seventh Circuit resulted in a panel opinion affirming the district court. Observing that living under the conditions the plaintiffs described may be sordid and horrible, the Seventh Circuit also noted an evaluation of those conditions must consider both the record, which showed an extraordinary history of violence by Marion's prisoners (including multiple murders of guards and prisoners, as well as searches producing a wide range of weaponry, hidden in body cavities and elsewhere), and the limited competence of federal courts to micromanage prisons. In the circumstances, each condition of which the plaintiffs complained fell within constitutional limits, and their cumulative effect, albeit "ghastly," did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, "given the extraordinary security problems at the prison." Piecemeal relief from certain control practices would impair the defendants' unitary system for dealing with "the nation's least corrigible inmates," which the appellate court declined to do. Bruscino v. Carlson, 854 F.2d 162 (7th Cir. 1988) (Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner). The appellate court also upheld the rejection of plaintiffs' due process claims concerning access to courts and legal assistance and their claim that transfers to and within Marion required prior notice and hearings. Id. On November 4, 1988, the court denied the plaintiffs' request for a rehearing en banc. On June 19, 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. Bruscino v. Carlson, 491 U.S. 907 (1989).Mike Fagan - 04/24/2008